The seven men who will decide US role in Paris climate deal

Donald Trump’s most powerful advisors are set to debate whether the US stays in the UN climate pact. Here’s what we know about their positions

Supposedly at war over climate change, key advisors Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon watch on as Trump signs orders to green-light the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines (Photo: Office of the President of the United States)


UPDATE: Several White House correspondents have reported the meeting on the Paris deal has been rescheduled, with one aide telling Climatewire’s Evan Lehmann that some participants had decided to travel at the last minute.

On Tuesday seven White House powerbrokers will sit down to discuss the US’ ongoing participation in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

President Donald Trump has criticised the agreement – and the US policies developed to implement it – for targeting the US fossil fuel industry and harming US workers.

The accord, which was agreed by 194 countries and has already been ratified by 143 (including the US), caps global warming at below 2C.

At one point during last year’s election campaign Trump said the US would “cancel” the agreement. Given that the pact does not hinge on US participation, this statement was widely interpreted to mean he wanted to withdraw the country from the accord.

But his administration has been divided on the approach, with competing voices close to the president taking up different positions.

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Over the Easter weekend, Politico reported senior White House advisors were preparing to meet on Tuesday to discuss the US’ approach. The list of attendees was unconfirmed, but the seven men reported to be going represent a spectrum of opinion on the best way to approach the Paris accord.

What unites them, said Friends of the Earth senior political director Ben Schreiber, is their wider goal of weakening regulations that restriction carbon emissions. Many Republicans believe US interests can be served better by staying inside the agreement and scraping out advantages for the US.

“Donald Trump has put fossil fuel interests in charge of the United States government and the result is going to be climate catastrophe. Debating a choice between weakening US climate action or withdrawing from the Paris agreement is simply an exercise in rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic,” said Schreiber.


Rex Tillerson, secretary of state

At his senate confirmation hearing, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil backed continuing US involvement in the Paris agreement and UN climate talks – if only to protect US interests.

“I think it’s important for America to remain engaged in those discussions so that we are at the table expressing a view and understanding what the impacts may be on the American people and American competitiveness,” he said.

For all his stated preference for engagement, Tillerson refused to meet UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa when she visited New York in March.

Jared Kushner – senior adviser

Trump’s son-in-law Kushner is reported to be one of the most influential advisors to the president. Kushner and wife Ivanka Trump are said to be working to convince the president to stay in the agreement. Yet neither have spoken publicly about the issue, meaning there is little to back up the image (perpetuated widely in the media) that they are moderating figures within the administration.

Ivanka Trump was not reported to be invited to the meeting, despite her advisory role at the White House and apparent concern about the issue.

Jared Kushner, senior advisor to US president Donald Trump, visiting the US military headquarters in Iraq. (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/Flickr)

Gary Cohn, national economic council director

During Cohn’s tenure as chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs, the investment bank made repeated public calls for strong climate action. The bank also lobbied the White House to deliver a strong climate deal just before the Paris negotiations. Cohn – a registered Democrat – has not himself taken a public position on the Paris agreement, but he is said to have sided with Kushner and Tillerson on the issue.

Likely in

HR McMaster, national security adviser

McMaster has taken no public position on the Paris accord, but Todd Stern, former climate envoy for president Barack Obama, told E&E News in March that McMaster would be an advocate for the US to stay in the agreement. His security council colleague, defence secretary James Mattis, has warned that climate change is already destablising regions of the world.

Likely out (now In)

Rick Perry, energy secretary

Last week, Perry met G7 energy ministers in Rome where he refused to sign an endorsement of the Paris accord. He told his counterparts the ongoing internal debate in the White House – which could be resolved on Tuesday – meant the US would not be adopting a position quite yet.

Perry has, as far as Climate Home can see, not taken a public position on the Paris agreement. His view on climate change, as for many of his cabinet colleagues, is that the science is not yet settled.

UPDATE: On 26 April, Time reported that Perry had backed staying within the agreement, but he said the US should “renegotiate” the terms. He did not elaborate on whether this meant changing the US’ voluntary commitments are trying to influence those of other countries. The text of the accord, which was signed by almost every country on earth, is now international law.


Steve Bannon – chief strategist

When Bannon was chief executive of Breitbart News, the right-wing website took a deeply critical editorial line against the Paris agreement and all forms of action of climate change. The New York Times reports that he has led the arguments against the agreement within the White House.

While reportedly bested by Kushner during internal skirmishes, Bannon remains an influential figure and the president’s mercurial nature means Bannon could emerge on top.

Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency administrator

One of the Paris agreement’s strongest critics within the administration, Pruitt has repeatedly called for the US to leave the accord, most recently on Thursday.

The head of the EPA told Fox that Paris had been “a bad deal” for the US. His reasoning was that the agreement compelled the US to act on reducing its emissions now – which he said would cost jobs – while India and China would not have to do anything until 2030. This is false. The voluntary commitments made to the agreement require immediate action from all major emitters.

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt on Fox and Friends on Thursday (Screengrab: Fox)

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