Pershing is now trying to lock in the U.S. side of the accord, which requires all nations to develop public plans detailing how they would cut carbon emissions through at least 2025. Oddly enough, Trump’s own hand-picked new energy czar, Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, agrees that his boss can do only so much damage. Cramer, in an interview with me in late May, was notably noncommittal when I asked him if Trump would simply renege on the Paris accord. He noted that Trump has said at a minimum that he’d “renegotiate” it, and he made the point that this is how Trump has approached past business negotiations, starting from an extreme position.
“I think you might see him pivot away” from his hard-line stance on scrapping the agreement altogether, Cramer told POLITICO.
Even Trump himself appears to be conceding some ground on the pact, saying at a minimum he will “rein it in as much as possible.” It all feels rather made-up-as-he-goes-along: Cramer, known as an energy hawk who wants to cut “punitive” fees on oil—but also wants to see more of a federal role for selling power across state lines—says he had spoken to Trump only twice before the campaign tapped him. One was on a radio talk show in early April, Cramer says, and then again a couple weeks later when Trump came to Washington to deliver a foreign policy speech.
In an era in which denial of global warming is still the official platform of the GOP, and the party’s newly anointed leader has repeatedly called it a “hoax,” the fate of the Paris accord under a potential Republican president may well be crucial to the future of the earth’s climate. Formally speaking, Trump can’t just wave a wand and pull the United States out of the Paris treaty; to leave it officially would require the United States to first wait three years, and then give a one-year notice—effectively putting a withdrawal beyond the next presidential election. Nor could Trump hope to renegotiate the international climate accord, which was reached by more than 170 countries after nearly 25 years’ worth of backroom meetings and formal negotiations. A President Trump would not be able to herd all those diplomats back to the table.
What Trump could do, however, is obstruct compliance at home by holding up key appointments, squeezing key agencies’ budgets or taking other executive actions that would have the cumulative effect of slowing down the international momentum Obama has built on climate. Just as Obama is trying to rush through new rules with executive decisions, a President Trump would have the latitude to reverse course on clean energy. This includes possibly approving construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, although the company hoping to build it, TransCanada Corp., has said projects like this are not usually structured for the U.S. government to get “a piece of the profits,” as Trump said he wants.