Newly released documents show just how badly the State Department wanted to get the U.S. into — and now to remain a party to — the Paris climate agreement that President Trump opposed in his campaign.
As Mr. Trump meets next week with other world leaders at the Group of Seven summit, the emails and cables underscore how the Obama administration’s State Department consulted with outside liberal groups and other allies to push the deal across the finish line.
The documents were released after legal prodding by Chris Horner, a lawyer and a senior fellow at the Energy and Environment Legal Institute, amid an ongoing fight inside the administration over whether to exit the deal, which commits the U.S. to significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions over the next decade.
Some of the emails show the State Department laying the groundwork for the responsibility of overseeing U.S. participation in the deal — political power that could be lost if the agreement is scrapped.
“We are happy to be able to contribute to advancing the administration’s climate agenda, and now that we [are] staffing up with expertise, we are eager to get the ball rolling on some specific work that will be relevant for you,” Rodney Ludema, a chief economist at the State Department, wrote in a February 2015 email to Todd Stern, the Obama administration’s lead climate negotiator.
In other messages, officials discuss possible economic repercussions of the deal to European countries, acknowledging that U.S. involvement is necessary to make the entire deal work. The cable focuses on how European nations are banking on the U.S. to make a similarly ambitious emissions commitment.
An exit from Paris would negate much of the State Department’s work in 2014 and 2015, both in preparing the U.S. side of the agreement and negotiating with other nations to get them on board.
“Certain sectors are concerned that too much leadership on emissions reductions could cost Europe jobs,” one cable reads in part. “While Germany is lobbying other member states to get in line with 2030 targets, a German industry group is warning that if the rest of the world does not join Europe in agreeing to substantial reductions in emissions, the European industries could face ‘billions’ in losses.”
In a statement Friday morning, the department would only say the deal remains under review.
“The administration is reviewing U.S. international climate change policies. At this point, we do not have any decisions to announce,” a State Department official said.
Critics charge that the documents, along with the broader fact that the department by all accounts is leading the pro-Paris charge inside the administration, show that State Department officials believe that remaining a part of the treaty will preserve their power and influence.
“State focuses on what’s best for State. Will their lives be enriched or made more difficult by having to advance and defend the new administration’s stated policy? Less money, no massive expansion of a climate diplomatic corps? Then undermine adoption of the policy,” Mr. Horner said.
“State is largely populated by those whose worldview embraces such gestures advancing an agenda in the name of global salvationism,” he said. “President Trump should view State’s input here with great suspicion, taking note of its record on this matter.”
While other top administration officials — including Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry — also favor remaining a part of the Paris deal, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has been among the most outspoken in favor of maintaining a U.S. seat at the table.
At a meeting of Arctic nations last week, Mr. Tillerson signed an agreement that trumpeted the Paris climate pact and stressed the importance of addressing climate change. Still, he made clear that the administration has not made a decision how to proceed.
Mr. Trump originally promised a decision before the G-7 meeting, but the timetable was pushed back amid continued debate inside the White House.
“We are appreciative that each of you has an important point of view,” the secretary of state said at last week’s Arctic conference. “We are going to make the right decision for the United States.”
Top leaders in the business community, including Mr. Tillerson’s former company, Exxon Mobil Corp., also have been pressuring Mr. Trump to remain a part of the deal.
Sources familiar with the internal White House debate say the president has been swayed by the near-unanimous support for the pact among leading CEOs.
But critics, such as Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt, have argued that the U.S. has put itself at a major economic disadvantage with the terms to which the Obama administration agreed in the Paris deal.
Under the agreement, the U.S. promised to slash emissions at least 26 percent by 2025. By contrast, China, the world’s leading producer of greenhouse gases, vowed to cap its emissions by 2030 (the year they were projected to peak) and then begin reductions.
As the terms were being negotiated, State Department officials and progressive allies of the Obama administration expressed bewilderment that Chinese officials seemingly weren’t concerned with the details of the deal.
“The [Chinese] foreign ministry folks coming through our doors lately report that as far as the summit goes, top brass wants a climate deal and they don’t particularly care about the details. That is a first in my experience,” Melanie Hart, director of China policy at the Center for American Progress, wrote in an October 2014 email to Mr. Stern.
The conversation began with Mr. Stern reaching out and asking for input on what advantage Chinese officials may be looking to gain from the agreement, which asks much of the U.S. and little of China.
Now, years later, the situation is reversed. There are reports that China may be able to cap its emissions years ahead of schedule while the U.S. may pull out of the deal entirely.
Even if the U.S. sticks by its commitment, China may still gain in the field of world opinion. Analyses from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other institutions have shown that it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the U.S. to meet its Paris pledge while China exceeds its promises.