WASHINGTON — European Union leaders and China vowed Thursday to push forward with the Paris Agreement on climate change as the world waits to see whether US President Donald Trump will pull out of the landmark accord.
Trump has said he will announce his decision on the climate deal later Thursday. Two senior US officials familiar with Trump’s plans told CNN on Wednesday that he is expected to withdraw from the Paris accord.
Such a move would be a major break from international partners that would isolate the United States in efforts to curb global warming.
Now EU and Chinese leaders have banded together in an unusual alliance that emphasizes the absence of the United States — the world’s second biggest emitter of carbon dioxide after China — from the playing field.
Miguel Arias Cañete, EU commissioner on climate action and energy, told CNN in a statement that the two powers “are joining forces to forge ahead on the implementation of the Paris Agreement and accelerate the global transition to clean energy.”
“No one should be left behind, but the EU and China have decided to move forward. Our successful cooperation on issues like emissions trading and clean technologies are bearing fruit. Now is the time to further strengthen these ties to keep the wheels turning for ambitious global climate action.”
The two spell out their continued commitment to the deal in a draft joint statement, obtained by CNN, which is slated to be published Friday at an EU-China summit regardless of what Trump announces.
“The EU and China consider climate action and the clean energy transition an imperative more important than ever,” the draft statement says, and “commit to significantly intensify their political, technical, economic and scientific cooperation on climate change and clean energy.”
The powers also “underline that tackling climate change and reforming our energy systems are significant drivers of job creation, investment opportunities and economic growth,” according to the draft statement, which also emphasizes the importance of international collaboration in curbing global warming.
Speaking alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Thursday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said his country had “stayed true to its commitment” in fighting climate change over the past few years, including “promoting the signing of the Paris Agreement.”
Li said: “Fighting climate change is a global consensus, not invented by China,” an apparent reference to a tweet Trump once made on the subject.
Merkel said she was pleased China was sticking to the Paris climate accord, adding that “the cooperation of the European Union with China in this area will play a crucial role especially in regards to new technologies.”
An appeal to Trump via Twitter
European Council President Donald Tusk made a direct appeal to Trump early Thursday not to pull out of the Paris accord, tweeting “@realDonaldTrump please don’t change the (political) climate for the worse.”
Meanwhile, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said China was prepared to fill the leadership vacuum left by the United States if it exits the Paris climate deal.
Speaking Thursday at a European forum in Berlin, Juncker referred to last week’s G7 meeting in Taormina, Sicily, saying: “We explained to Mr. Trump in Taormina that it would not be good for the world or the United States if America was to literally step off the world’s stage. Because the vacuum will be filled, and the Chinese are in prime position to take on a leadership role.”
In a speech the day before, Juncker said world leaders had tried to warn Trump that he could not exit the Paris Agreement — ratified by the United States last year — overnight. “It seems this attempt did not succeed, but the law is the law. And everyone has to stick to it,” he said.
He added: “We are not only talking about the future of European people, we are first and foremost talking about the future of people elsewhere. Eighty-three countries are in danger of disappearing from the face of the Earth if we do not begin combating climate change in a resolute way.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN that Russia, another major carbon emitter, also fully supported the Paris accord.
“You know that President (Vladimir) Putin signed this convention, Russia pays a lot of attention (to that),” Peskov said. “Of course the effectiveness of implementing this convention without the key participants, perhaps, will be hindered. But there is no alternative as of now.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters that Trump’s announcement was “obviously a very important decision” since the United States is the world’s biggest economy, but that it was vital also that other nations stay the course.
“The Paris Agreement is essential for our collective future,” he said, urging civil society and businesses also to play a role.
G7 leaders dismayed
Trump tweeted late Wednesday that he would announce his decision at 3 p.m. ET Thursday in the White House Rose Garden, ending his message with “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
Even if he does opt for withdrawal, it likely won’t be a quick, overnight process. The exit could take as long as one to almost four years.
The White House was initially slated to make a final decision on the climate accord last month but then said it would wait until after the G7 meeting.
At the summit, leaders expressed dismay at Trump’s climate stance. After the meetings concluded, the United States refused to sign onto a statement of support for the Paris accord that all other G7 participants approved.
The Paris climate agreement was established during a 2015 conference in the French capital. Every nation signed on minus two: war-torn Syria and Nicaragua, which insists the deal isn’t tough enough.
In signing onto the accord, countries pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but were given wide leeway in how much they planned to reduce them by.
How large are US CO2 emissions?
The US is the second worst emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, according to the European Commission’s emissions database, behind only China.
In 2015, it released 5.1 million kilotons of carbon dioxide, more than all 28 European Union countries combined, and makes up almost a sixth of all global emissions.
Obama had made efforts during his administration to reduce US emissions in an attempt to avert catastrophic climate change.
But since coming into office, Trump has already signed executive orders to make it easier to mine coal as well as removing Obama’s 2013 Climate Action Plan.
Trump had previously expressed his refusal to accept the science of climate change.
What is the Paris Agreement, anyway?
Agreed to at the 21st Conference of Parties, or COP21, in 2015, the Paris Agreement had just one major aim — to keep average global warming due to climate change to within the dangerous 2 degree Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) threshold.
Individual countries could each decide how they would reach that target, but the pledges would have to grow over time and from 2018, a new strategy would be required every five years.
“It was a significant move forward … the fact that there’s just so much agreement and good will on all parts, including some nations that had been (reluctant) in the past,” Professor Ian Simmonds of Sydney University’s School of Earth Sciences told CNN.
It has been ratified by 147 parties or countries already, including all the world’s largest carbon emitters. The US committed to reducing climate emissions by 26-28% in a decade at the time.
But some scientists have pointed out even with the agreement in place, halting global warming at two degrees might be unattainable.
“Over the last two years we’ve broken the mean global temperatures records (every year) — 2014 was a new record, 2015 smashed that record and we beat that again in 2016,” Simmonds said.
What impact would a US withdrawal have?
Any delay in US efforts to halt greenhouse gas emissions could cost the country and the world in the long term, scientists say.
According to CNN’s John D. Sutter the 2 degrees goal is incredibly consequential. “The fate of the planet — and the mess we shove on future generations — hangs in the balance.”
The vast majority of scientists agree that higher temperatures will cause rising seas, flooded coastal cities, mass extinction, drought, migration crises, deadlier heatwaves, crop failures, and stronger storms.
A December 2016 study released in Nature Climate Change journal said a US delay could make the Paris Agreement targets “unreachable.”
Analysis by the Climate Interactive team said if the US dropped out of the Paris Agreement and took no action, global temperatures could rise 0.3 degrees higher compared to if they stayed.
“A US climate retreat will no doubt leave a big hole on the international climate regime … It will also be a major geopolitical and reputational blow for the US,” Li Shuo, climate analyst for Greenpeace China told CNN.
However, not all experts agree it will be disastrous for efforts to reach global climate goals.
Sydney University environmental politics professor David Schlosberg told CNN that other major countries, China and India, would likely pick up the slack, leaving the US politically isolated.
“Trump really isn’t as relevant as he wants to be… I think there will (even) be an effort on the part of many US states and localities to help the US meet its stated voluntary goal anyway,” Schlosberg said.
California has also previously said it would help pick up the slack for any backdowns by the US President on climate change.