Politics of Poverty

One year since Paris Agreement withdrawal: Climate progress and accountability in the Trump era

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Climate justice activists rallied in Lafayette Square Park in Washington, DC, on June 3, 2017, to protest the Trump Administration's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. Photo: Stephen Melkisethian/Flickr

Oxfam files Freedom of Information Act requests with nine government agencies to uncover details of Trump’s Paris Agreement withdrawal decision.

If you’ve been able to stay focused during these roller-coaster days that have come to define the Trump presidency, I salute you. But if you, like me, get thrown off by every new Twitter insult and Russia investigation leak, you may periodically forget that the rest of the world is still moving forward on a whole range of substantive policy issues—including climate change. This Friday, June 1, marks the 1-year anniversary of President Trump’s infamous Rose Garden ceremony, announcing his intent to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. Comfortingly, international cooperation and diplomacy live on despite the US political soap opera.

One strong example is the ongoing global effort to address the effects of climate change and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While the US is the first, and only, government to deny climate science in the world, most countries are starting to follow through on their Paris Agreement commitments and actions—and some are even increasing their ambition. Here are a just a few developments:

  • In April, French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed a partnership to double down on their Paris commitments by pushing for a global price on carbon and reductions to transport-related emissions.
  • French officials drew a line in the sand stating that the EU will no longer make trade deals with the US if President Trump follows through on withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.
  • New Zealand announced a ban on new offshore oil drilling, citing climate change as a key driver in making the decision and noting that the country aims to rely completely on renewable energy by 2030.
  • The World Bank is implementing its new policy to end all financial support for oil and gas extraction.

Yet, as these positive developments unfold, we can’t ignore that the US administration is trying to drag us backwards and shirk global commitments on climate. As part of Oxfam’s effort to hold the Trump administration accountable for their profoundly bad actions on this issue, we filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for documents related to the president’s June 2017 announcement to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

We’re looking to see how federal agencies weighed in when it came to the question of whether the US should remain in the climate agreement—and why. For example, we know that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Trump to stay in the pact, arguing that it would needlessly harm US diplomatic relations, and that Tillerson was supported by other leaders in the Trump administration. On the other hand, the EPA, under the direction of Administrator Scott Pruitt, strongly urged that the US leave the agreement, backed by a largely incoherent legal argument that the US could be held legally liable for its Obama-era climate pledges.

We also know that President Trump stated publicly that the US would leave the Paris Agreement for reasons that are either factually untrue or wildly misstated. At the time, other parts of the government knew he was making a mistake—or at least, aware that the president was not acting on the best information. Where and how did conversations about the decision happen? And can we document them? We have a right to know how our president came to such a significant and likely damaging decision—even when he was told that common sense, science, and US national interest argued that he should do the opposite.

As with all FOIA requests, we don’t know exactly what we’ll find—or when we’ll find it—but we believe it is essential to shine a light on the decision for the US to renounce its global leadership on such a consequential issue, especially when lies or falsehoods are cited by the administration as the primary reasoning for their action.

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