EU Freaks Out After Climate Chief Suggests US Can Water Down Paris Pledge

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Members of the European Union believe the “spirit” of the Paris agreement could be compromised if President Donald Trump dramatically reduces the U.S.’s obligations under the deal.

Some of the poorest nations involved in the Paris agreement are howling about EU climate chief Miguel Arias Cañete’s suggestion that the U.S. might stay in the accord if the country ratchets down its obligations. Allowing Trump to strip away former President Barack Obama’s promises could weaken so-called climate solidarity, they argue.

“If the US is now once again given special circumstances, this would create a bad precedent, where everyone would feel they can be allowed to decrease their ambition,” Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, a climate negotiator from the DR Congo government, told reporters Monday.

“I don’t think it’s defensible,” he added. “People have been saying the US will not be allowed to rewrite the agreement. You can’t say that and do the contrary. If we did, we would open a Pandora’s box, because who would decide to follow suit?”

His comments come shortly after Cañete told reporters the U.S. “will try to review the terms on which they could be engaged under this agreement.” The accord, which compels the U.S. to reduce carbon emissions nearly 30 percent by 2030, is a non-binding deal that does not technically prohibit Trump from greatly reducing his predecessor’s promises.

The White House disputed Cañete’s claim.

“There has been no change in the United States’ position on the Paris agreement…” a White House spokeswoman said in a Sept. 16 statement on Twitter. “As the President has made abundantly clear, the US is withdrawing unless we can re-enter on terms more favorable to our country.”

The voluntary nature of the accord allows signatories to set their own pace, so long as their pledges are broadly consistent with limiting global warming to 2C. U.S. negotiators won sufficiently ambiguous language to prevent a legal challenge over the issue.

Gebru Jember Endalew, who chairs the EU’s Least Developed Countries negotiating bloc, warned that allowing Trump to dictate the terms would be extremely unpopular and could lead to rifts among other nations.

“Any backward adjustment of NDCs (nationally determined contributions) would hugely damage and undermine global solidarity,” he said, adding that the NDC revisions were permitted “with a view to enhancing a country’s level of ambition.”

Some believe that Obama’s decision to forgo Senate approval of the deal and bank on a Democratic win in 2016 made the agreement politically vulnerable. He joined the accord in 2016, after years of working behind the scenes to craft the non-binding global warming deal.

His signature achievement on global warming, therefore, depended on Hillary Clinton winning the 2016 presidential election and the courts. If Clinton had won the election, then the deal’s pledges could have become concrete. But the deal is now vulnerable because of Trump’s victory.

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