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Trump pulls U.S. from Paris climate accord, raising challenges for Canada

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the U.S. role in the Paris climate change accord, on June 1, 2017, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

President Donald Trump vowed to pull the United States out of the Paris climate-change agreement and immediately end all compliance with the 18-month-old deal, a move that raises new challenges for Canada's climate strategy.

In a news conference at the White House Rose Garden on Thursday, Mr. Trump slammed the 195-country accord as a "bad deal for America," saying it would force the country to abandon its world-leading reserves of coal and would create job losses in the coal, oil and natural gas industries and in the manufacturing sector.

The President held out the prospect of renegotiating the Paris accord or reaching a new deal with the goal of lessening the burden on the United States and putting more onus on major developing countries such as China and India.

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"So we're getting out," he said. "But we'll start to negotiate and we will see if we can get a deal that's fair. And if we can, that's great. And if we can't, that's fine."

With his announcement, Mr. Trump formally renounced U.S. leadership in the international battle against climate change, which scientists say will impact billions of people with devastating droughts, floods, rising sea levels and changing weather patterns in the coming decades.

Washington's reversal on the Paris accord and regulating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions represents a major challenge for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has claimed a leadership role on the climate-change issue, both internationally and domestically. Critics argue Canada must align its policies with those in the United States or face the growing loss of the Canadian economy's competitiveness.

The Prime Minister quickly affirmed his support for Paris on Thursday and conveyed that message in a phone conversation with Mr. Trump, his office said. "We are deeply disappointed that the United States' federal government has decided to withdraw from the Paris agreement," Mr. Trudeau said in a statement.

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"Canada is unwavering in our commitment to fight climate change and support clean economic growth. Canadians know we need to take decisive and collective action to tackle the many harsh realities of our changing climate."

At the signing of the deal in December, 2015, global leaders cheered a historic agreement – signed by virtually every country on earth – to work together in order to avert the worst impacts of climate change by holding the increase in global temperatures to less than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, with a goal of 1.5 degrees.

Mr. Trump has abandoned that joint effort, not only by announcing the withdrawal from the Paris agreement but by moving to reverse federal policies aimed at cutting GHG emissions. In the United States, the leadership now falls to states such as California, as well as municipalities and businesses that see climate change as an unalterable fact of modern life.

It will take four years for the United States to officially withdraw from the accord that was ratified by then-president Barack Obama. In the meantime, the Trump administration will essentially ignore its obligation, though environmental groups may go to court to force its compliance.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced that she will host her counterparts from the European Union and China to see how the three sides can work together to support the United Nations-led agreement.

Ms. McKenna said she would "seek clarity" when she meets next week with Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, on how the United States envisions a path forward toward a new deal.

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She added the Paris accord has been ratified and is now in force, suggesting she sees no prospect for reopening it.

The leaders of France, Germany and Italy responded Thursday by saying they would not renegotiate the deal. French President Emmanuel Macron, who made a televised address in French and English, said Mr. Trump had "committed an error for the interests of his country, his people and a mistake for the future of our planet."

"I tell you firmly tonight: We will not renegotiate a less ambitious accord. There is no way," said Mr. Macron, who took office less than a month ago.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a pastor's daughter who is usually intensely private about her faith, said the accord was needed "to preserve our Creation."

"To everyone for whom the future of our planet is important, I say let's continue going down this path so we're successful for our Mother Earth," she said to applause from lawmakers.

Ms. McKenna said the U.S. reversal on climate policy will not deter Ottawa from implementing the federal measures in the pan-Canadian strategy that Mr. Trudeau signed in December with 11 of 13 provincial and territorial premiers.

"It's something we owe to our kids and grandkids," she said. She added that the transition to a lower-carbon global economy presents "a huge economic opportunity" for Canadian businesses and workers, even as governments protect the overall competitiveness of the economy.

Still, Mr. Trump's action will reinforce calls from conservative politicians and some business leaders to slow the course on carbon pricing and costly regulations.

Conservative Party environment critic Ed Fast said his party supports the Paris accord but opposes the Liberal approach to meeting Canada's commitments, particularly carbon levies. Indeed, it was then-prime-minister Stephen Harper who first pledged Canada would reduce its GHG emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, a target the Liberals have since adopted.

But with the American government now backpedalling from the more ambitious policies of Mr. Obama, Canada has to respond, Mr. Fast said. "The competitiveness challenge we face will only be exacerbated," he said.

On Thursday, Mr. Trump used similar argument in jettisoning the Paris accord, saying it would "hamstring" the American economy and "empower some of the world's worst polluters," notably China and India. He slammed the creation of a Green Climate Fund, in which wealthier nations agreed to marshal $100-billion (U.S.) a year by 2020 in government and private funding to help developing countries reduce GHG emissions and cope with the impacts of climate change.

"The bottom line is the Paris accord is very unfair at the highest level to the United States," he said. "This agreement represents a massive redistribution of United States' wealth to other countries."

It will now fall to states and cities that have been pushing ahead with their own environmental policies, to become the de facto U.S. leaders on climate change.

The largest among those is California, where Governor Jerry Brown has built his legacy around aggressively leading on climate change.

In a conference call, Mr. Brown decried the "insane move" to withdraw from the Paris agreement. "Donald Trump has absolutely chosen the wrong course," he said. "He's wrong on the facts. California's economy and America's economy are boosted by following the Paris agreement."

Since Mr. Trump's election in November, California legislators have introduced a series of new environmental-protection bills in an attempt to insulate the state from the new White House administration's climate policy.

On Friday, Mr. Brown is heading to China on a week-long trip to meet with world leaders as part of an effort to take up the mantle as the U.S. leader on climate change. "California, we're all in," he said. "While our President may be AWOL in the battle against climate change, we're not."

Indeed, there was a battle within the administration and among Republicans in Congress as to whether the U.S. should stay or go from Paris.

Mr. Pruitt was a key hawk – a climate skeptic who is in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency but a staunch support of the fossil-fuel industry. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – the former chairman of Exxon Mobil Corp. – argued U.S. interests would be better served by staying at the table.

The White House announcement reverberated through the U.S. business community. Tesla founder Elon Musk, a strong supporter of the Paris agreement, announced he was stepping down as one of Mr. Trump's economic advisers. "Am departing presidential councils," he wrote on Twitter. "Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world."

Business leaders, including General Electric chief executive Jeff Immelt, Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein and Microsoft president Brad Smith, issued statements expressing disappointment in Mr. Trump's decision, with companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Intel pledging to push forward with their own environmental initiatives. "Climate change is real," Mr. Immelt wrote on Twitter. "Industry must now lead and not depend on government."

A long-scheduled meeting on Friday between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and top European Union officials in Brussels was dominated by Trump's decision.

The meeting will end with a joint statement pledging full implementation of the Paris deal, committing China and the EU to cutting back on fossil fuels, developing more green technology and helping raise $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer countries reduce their high-polluting emissions.

China has emerged as Europe's unlikely partner in this and other areas - underlining Trump's isolation on many issues.

"There is no reverse gear to energy transition. There is no backsliding on the Paris Agreement," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said.

In the weeks leading up to Mr. Trump's announcement, dozens of major U.S. corporations, including Apple and Morgan Stanley, took out full-page ads in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal urging Mr. Trump not to abandon the deal. Some energy business leaders, including Exxon Mobil Corp CEO Darren Woods, also publicly encouraged Mr. Trump to remain in the agreement, arguing the U.S. stood a greater chance of influencing global climate policy as part of a coalition than it could on its own.

Withdrawing from the Paris agreement is "huge foreign policy blunder" that would likely make it more difficult for the U.S. to succeed in other international negotiations, including trade, said Samantha Gross, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. Far from boosting U.S. jobs, leaving a multilateral environmental agreement could prove to be an economic blow, said Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

"One-trillion dollars a year is available on offer to American exporters and investors because there is the climate deal in Paris and quite frankly some of the American companies won't have access to that probably moving forward," he said.

With files from Reuters

Video: Trump's speech on U.S. withdrawal from Paris climate accord in 90 seconds
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About the Authors
Global Energy Reporter

Shawn McCarthy is an Ottawa-based, national business correspondent for The Globe and Mail, covering a global energy beat. He writes on various aspects of the international energy industry, from oil and gas production and refining, to the development of new technologies, to the business implications of climate-change regulations. More

U.S. Correspondent

Tamsin McMahon is a U.S correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in California. She previously covered real estate for The Globe. Prior to joining the paper in January 2015, she worked at Maclean’s magazine covering business and the economy, where she was nominated for two National Magazine Awards. More

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