Donald Trump’s looming constitutional crisis at home may shake up White House momentum to pull the United States out of the Paris agreement, Climate Progress founding editor Joseph Romm suggests in a post on Medium.
After weeks of on-and-off speculation, behind-the-scenes intrigue, and massive mobilization of support for Paris, a White House meeting last Tuesday was supposed to finally decide on a future course for the U.S. And by all accounts, the mercurial former reality TV star currently playing the role of U.S. president looked likely to exit the landmark global climate deal.
But Tuesday was the same day Trump decided to fire FBI Director James Comey, a move that further destabilized his already erratic administration. The Oval Office meeting on Paris was cancelled, the decision postponed until after G7 leaders meet in Sicily May 26-27. Romm cites former State Department climate official Andrew Light, now a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, arguing that problems at home make it less likely Trump will go out of his way to burn his bridges abroad.
“Every president in the modern era who gets into trouble at home looks to opportunities to engage other leaders on the world stage publicly and cooperatively to demonstrate their legitimacy,” Light said.
“Exiting the Paris agreement would make it all but impossible for Trump to work with other world leaders on a global stage,” Romm adds. If America abandons the Paris process, “we will be a rogue nation, a global pariah like Putin’s Russia,” and “our soft power, our ability to achieve outcomes we desire in other global negotiations, will collapse.”
The net result? “Where this ends up is anybody’s guess, but for a president already at record low approval ratings, the potential fallout from the Comey firing and multiple Russia-related investigations only stands to weaken his position further,” Romm writes. “And that makes it harder for Trump to make a decision that would not merely be very unpopular here and abroad, but would actively undermine his ability to work cooperatively with other leaders on the global stage.”
As if to underscore the potential risks and rewards in Trump’s response to Paris, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson received widespread praise last week for signing an Arctic Council declaration that emphasized the severity of the climate crisis, rather than trying to water down the statement.
“The language is similar to previous declarations, but it is remarkable in the fact that Trump’s America signed onto it,” notes ThinkProgress correspondent Samantha Page. “Signing on to the Arctic Council declaration is, in some ways, a remarkable example of the State Department’s contradictory position in the Trump administration. While Tillerson has said he personally supports the United States staying in the Paris agreement, it’s unclear how hard he is pressing the president — or how much influence Tillerson even has.”
While the U.S. made it clear it was taking its time to review its climate policies, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland still praised Tillerson’s work during the two days in Fairbanks, Alaska. The former ExxonMobil CEO played a “strong and positive role in holding the chair in all eight Arctic countries in getting to a public declaration that we were all able to sign, which includes very clear recognition of the Paris agreement,” she said Thursday evening.
“I’m pleased that we got to a good place thanks to the partnership of all the Arctic Council members, very much including the United States, and very much including Secretary Tillerson.”
But John Coequyt, global climate policy director at the U.S. Sierra Club, noted how far international climate politics have shifted to make Tillerson’s position such a big deal.
“Just five months ago, a standard, commonplace agreement like this to share climate science research and reiterate the importance of global action to reduce climate pollutants would have barely been newsworthy,” he told ThinkProgress’ Page in a statement. “These positions — agreed to by a U.S.-led coalition of eight nations — are supported by the vast majority of the American public and every nation on earth, making it clear just how inexcusable and disastrous it would be for the Trump administration to weaken our commitments.”