President Trump’s America-first mantra steamrolled over the objections of lawmakers, top CEOs, the Pentagon, the U.N. and even his own daughter, as he announced Thursday that he was withdrawing the U.S. from the landmark Paris climate accord to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
After months of behind-the-scenes drama and political jockeying, Mr. Trump took to a sunny White House Rose Garden to say the deal former President Barack Obama negotiated was skewed to punish Americans while rewarding the country’s economic competitors.
He said he’s willing to try for a better deal for the U.S., but said if that doesn’t come about, he’s fine walking away.
“We’re getting out, but we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine,” Mr. Trump said to applause from critics of the Paris deal assembled on the White House lawn.
“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” he continued. “I promised I would exit or renegotiate any deal that doesn’t serve America’s interests.”
Top Democrats, environmental groups, foreign leaders and Mr. Obama himself denounced the move, with the former president issuing a statement while Mr. Trump was still speaking, accusing his successor of joining “a small handful of nations that reject the future.”
Mr. Trump, though, delivered a detailed evisceration of the deal Mr. Obama signed, saying it crushes American businesses, unnecessarily funnels billions of dollars to other nations and allows the world’s top polluter, China, to do little to curb its own emissions for the next 13 years.
Mr. Obama had committed the U.S. to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025, while China needs only to cap its pollution by 2030.
The pact also calls on America to commit billions of dollars to the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund to pay developing countries to develop cleaner energy.
Those terms, Mr. Trump said, are unacceptable.
“The bottom line is that the Paris accord is very unfair at the highest level to the United States,” he said.
The move represents a fatal blow to Mr. Obama’s environmental legacy, which political analysts say is now “in tatters” following Mr. Trump’s decision.
He had negotiated the deal hoping to lock the country into a low-emissions future, and expecting a Democratic successor to see it through. Instead, Mr. Trump’s surprise victory upended his plans.
The former president, however, said he believes the world is on track even without the Trump administration.
“Simply put, the private sector already chose a low-carbon future. And for the nations that committed themselves to that future, the Paris agreement opened the floodgates for businesses, scientists, and engineers to unleash high-tech, low-carbon investment and innovation on an unprecedented scale,” Mr. Obama said.
The Paris Agreement was the latest outgrowth of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Of nearly 200 nations that are part of the convention, 147 have ratified the Paris deal.
Mr. Obama signed the ratification himself rather than facing a near-certain defeat had he submitted the deal to the Senate to be ratified as a treaty. Some analysts had urged Mr. Trump to submit the deal and let it be erased by Congress.
But the president said it was his duty to protect American workers.
Mr. Trump was joined at the White House by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, top adviser Stephen K. Bannon and other administration officials who had publicly favored pulling out of Paris. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, all of whom pushed the president to remain in the accord, did not attend the address.
While the issue has divided Republicans both in the White House and on Capitol Hill, GOP leadership praised the move as proof that this administration is intent on putting U.S. interests first.
“It would have driven up the cost of energy, hitting middle-class and low-income Americans the hardest … I commend President Trump for fulfilling his commitment to the American people and withdrawing from this bad deal,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said in a statement.
The reaction from critics, both at home and abroad, was swift and harsh. Leading environmental groups quickly scheduled protests outside the White House, while Democratic lawmakers said the U.S. was embarrassing itself on the world stage.
“President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement is an abdication of American leadership and an international disgrace,” Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont said in a statement.
Some environmental groups, while deeply disappointed by the withdrawal, took a glass-half-full view of the situation, urging Mr. Trump to make good on his promise to sincerely try to renegotiate the agreement.
“Other countries are very unlikely to be interested in renegotiating the Paris agreement or in negotiating an alternative agreement. But the United States still retains the right to adjust the terms of its participation in the Paris Agreement by revising its target,” said Bob Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and a top EPA official during the Obama administration. “We encourage the president to keep that option on the table as he seeks a ‘fairer’ deal.”
A strict reading of the text of the agreement suggests that countries cannot simply revise their emissions targets downward and can only institute more ambitious goals. Mr. Trump’s renegotiation, then, would have to focus on changing the core language of the deal itself to allow the U.S. to pursue a lower threshold.
But major European countries quickly rejected that idea.
The leaders of France, Italy, and Germany released a joint statement saying the deal cannot be amended, effectively telling Mr. Trump to stick by his predecessor’s 26 percent commitment or forever be banished from the pact.
“We firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated,” the three heads of state said in a joint statement, expressing “regret” with the course Mr. Trump chose.
Even the mayor of Pittsburgh, whose city was mentioned twice by Mr. Trump as an example of the blue-collar American town he was elected to fight for, came out against the president.
“As the mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris agreement for our people, our economy & future,” Democrat Bill Peduto tweeted just after the president’s remarks.
But for all the criticism, Mr. Trump brought data to the Rose Garden Thursday to back up his decision. Known for speaking off the cuff and often accused of being loose with facts, the president this time used raw numbers to justify the move.
“Compliance with the terms of the Paris accord and the onerous energy restrictions it has placed on the United States could cost America as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025,” Mr. Trump said, citing numbers from a recent National Economic Research Associates study. “The cost to the economy at this time would be close to $3 trillion in lost GDP and 6.5 million industrial jobs, while households would have $7,000 less income, and, in many cases, much worse than that.”
The Paris deal was, along with the Iran nuclear agreement, the most notable international accord reached under the previous administration.
Mr. Obama’s swift, harsh response seems to be proof that he recognizes the consequences of Mr. Trump’s decision. Analysts say that with many of his environmental regulations already on the scrap heap, Mr. Obama has little left to cling to.
“President Obama’s environmental record is in tatters, in effect,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston who specializes in presidential leadership. “Obama gets credit for making a stand on environmental issues, but the practical effect is that the legacy is a paper one at this point as the Trump administration whittles away at the policies.”
• S.A. Miller and Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.