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The 3 ways Trump can withdraw from the Paris climate deal

President Donald Trump is expected to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate change agreement, undoing a landmark achievement of the Obama administration and signaling the U.S. will limit its cooperation with international efforts to stem global warming.

The president had said he would make a decision on the Paris accord this week. And now, Axios and Politico are reporting the president has decided to leave, though no official statement has been made. The decision marks a victory for the nationalist wing of the White House, led by advisers Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who is reportedly working out the details. It’s a defeat for moderates who favored remaining in the deal, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Chief Economic Adviser Gary Cohn, and Trump’s daughter Ivanka.


Ripping up Paris and other “bad deals” for America was a key campaign promise to supporters. The president has already abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership and signaled he will renegotiate NAFTA. But while withdrawal from the Paris deal may please Trump’s base, leaving it will be complicated. There are three ways the U.S. can exit Paris, each producing very different policy and potential climate outcomes:

  • Trump could simply announce that he’s pulling the U.S. out of the deal, which would trigger a 3-year withdrawal process, during which time Trump would be allowed to change his mind.
  • Or Trump could declare the Paris deal a treaty, which would then require two-thirds of the Senate to vote in support of it, and Senate Republicans would not let that happen.
  • The third and most radical option would be a withdrawal from the deal that underpins the Paris deal, the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the treaty that sets the parameters on how other agreements, from the Kyoto Protocol to the Paris agreement, are to be negotiated.

The Paris agreement is a 195-nation deal to mitigate carbon emissions and keep global temperatures below an increase of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature at which a preponderance of scientists believe that the cycle of warming will be irreversible. By withdrawing, the U.S. would join Nicaragua and Syria as the only two countries not to ratify the deal.


The centerpiece of the U.S. commitment to comply with Paris is the Clean Power Plan, a rule approved by President Obama which would reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants by 32 percent relative to 2005 levels. President Trump signed an order in March ordering the EPA to review the plan.

Last week, 22 Republican Senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, signed a letter to Trump, suggesting that without withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, he might not be able to rescind the Clean Power Plan. This claim, experts say, doesn’t hold up to scrutiny; the Clean Power Plan is entirely separate from the Paris deal.

“It’s going to happen anyway,” said Patrick Parenteau, the former director of Vermont Law School’s Environmental Law Center, of the Clean Power Plan. “But we have to do so much more than that, and that’s where we’re really going to lose.”

Beyond his voter base, the decision to leave will be applauded some — but certainly not all — parts of the energy industry, which has been divided on whether to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. ExxonMobil and Shell are for remaining the Paris deal; Murray Energy and the National Mining Association are against it. Trump was scheduled to meet with heads of energy companies and major corporations this week to discuss the agreement, Reuters reported.

But most corporations, however, didn’t favor withdrawal. Hundreds of companies signed a letter in November asking Trump to stay in the accord.