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Here's how Obama's trying to persuade Trump not to abandon the Paris climate deal

President Barack Obama Speaks On Paris Accord
Don’t do it, man.
Photo by Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images

Donald Trump has promised to yank the United States out of the Paris climate deal. His aides are exploring their legal options for doing so. And, from a practical standpoint, there’s nothing really stopping Trump from giving up on international efforts to tackle global warming.

So, in a final desperate plea, President Barack Obama and other world leaders are trying to convince him otherwise, appealing to his self-interest, hoping he’ll somehow change his mind.

At a press conference on Monday afternoon, Obama, who is reportedly still tutoring Trump on the presidency, laid out his basic pitch. The United States is already shifting in the direction of cleaner energy. States are pursuing emissions cuts on their own. Wind and solar and electric vehicles are making big gains. Even states like Texas are greening their grids. This stuff, Obama argued, is all good for the US economy.

“What we’ve been able to show over the last five, six, eight years is that it’s possible to grow the economy really fast and possible to bring down carbon emissions as well,” he said. “It’s not just a bunch of rules that we’ve set up. You have got utilities that are putting in solar panels and creating jobs. ... In fact, 40 percent of the country already lives in states that are actively pursuing what’s embodied in the Paris agreement and the Clean Power Plan rule.”

The real upside of the Paris climate deal, Obama went on, is that it allows the United States to prod other countries to follow along: “What the Paris agreement now does is say to China and India and other countries that are potentially polluting, come on board. Let’s work together so you guys do the same thing. And the biggest threat, when it comes to climate change and pollution, isn’t going to come from us, because we only have 300 million people. It’s going to come from China with over 1 billion people and India with over 1 billion people.”

Now, this is a fairly American-centric view of things — China and India have their own reasons for curbing emissions and tackling global warming beyond US prodding. But as experts like David Victor of UC San Diego have argued, having the world’s most powerful nation participating in these talks is far more likely to spur other countries, particularly developing countries, to increase their efforts to curb emissions. So the thrust of what Obama’s saying is basically correct.

Obama finished: “Do I think that the [Trump] administration will make changes? Absolutely. But these international agreements, the tradition has been that you carry them forward across administrations, particularly if, once you actually examine them, it turns out that they are doing good for us and binding other countries into behavior that will help us.”

Now, the odds are slim that Trump will listen to Obama’s argument. Less than slim. Emaciated. The GOP’s aversion to international agreements and doing anything about climate change are long-standing and deep-rooted. A last-minute plea from an outgoing president looks paltry in comparison.

Still, that hasn’t stopped world leaders from at least trying. Outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made his case in a phone call with Trump. Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been running for president in France, threatened trade retaliation in the form of a carbon tax on US exports if Trump pulls out of the deal. (Germany and the rest of the EU aren’t backing Sarkozy up, though.)

Meanwhile, David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council makes the case that leaving the Paris climate deal will only strengthen China’s hand around the world. He quotes one Chinese official seeing the upside in America’s withdrawal: “China's influence and voice are likely to increase in global climate governance,” the official told Reuters, “which will then spill over into other areas of global governance and increase China's global standing, power and leadership.”

Anyway, the safe bet is that Trump will ignore all this advice and pull out of the Paris deal anyway. But seeing as how there are no serious legal barriers stopping him, persuasion’s all that’s left.

Further reading

  • Here’s the full transcript of Obama’s press conference, with his full argument on Trump and the Paris climate deal.
  • Here’s a primer on what the Paris climate deal actually does. Every country makes a voluntary pledge to constrain greenhouse-gas emissions and then agrees to meet at the UN regularly to review and strengthen their pledges over time.
  • Here’s a fuller rundown of all the radical changes that Trump and the GOP have pledged to make on climate and environmental policy.