Throughout his presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly promised to pull the US out of a landmark international accord to cut carbon emissions.
“Trump has made it clear he will withdraw from the Paris Agreement,” Myron Ebell, the former head of Trump’s EPA transition team, told reporters in London on January 30. “He could do it by executive order tomorrow or he could do it as part of a larger package.”
Although the formal process for removing the US from the agreement would actually take years, it appears the Trump administration has already started the process of scaling back US involvement in the accord.
Since Trump took office, the reports that detailed the progress made on President Obama’s Climate Action Plan have disappeared from the State Department’s website, where they were once publicly accessible.
Here’s what the page with the most recent report looked like on January 20th:
And here it is now:
Screenshot/Department of Energy
The three most recent reports, which were published in 2010, 2014 and 2016, are all gone from the website. Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the US is committed to publish a report every four years that projects future greenhouse gas emissions based on existing policies. The 2010 report fulfills that requirement, while the ones published in 2014 and 2016 go a step further, describing the steps the US was taking to cut greenhouse gas pollution, prepare for the impacts of climate change, and engage with other nations about the climate problem.
The disappearances were noticed by members of the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI), a group of scientists, archivists and other people working to monitor changes to government websites and download reports and data that they believe are at risk of being taken down by the Trump administration.
During the Obama administration, the US pushed all countries to publish biennial reports analyzing how planned actions would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the future (in addition to the reports with future projections based on current policies). The Obama administration’s biennial reports assessed progress on his Climate Action Plan, charted the trends in US greenhouse gas emission, and outlined the progress made toward the reduction targets.
The page about Obama’s Climate Action Plan itself, which lives on the Department of Energy’s website, also disappeared temporarily after Trump’s inauguration, but has since been put back up.
If you want to see the full PDF of the plan, however, you have to view it in the archive of Obama’s websites.
The framework of the Paris agreement, which went into effect on November 4, means it would take the US three or four years to fully withdraw, even if Trump issues an executive order to pull out of it. But there are several things the president can do now to decrease participation.
First, he could withdraw the country from the UNFCCC, which would only take a year, and would consequently remove the US from the Paris Agreement as well. Second, because the accord doesn’t impose penalties on countries that do not meet the goals they set when they ratified the deal, Trump could just ignore the targets for the US (it’s unlikely we would have reduced emissions enough to meet them anyway).
It’s not surprising that the Trump administration has taken the reports down, given its opposition to the US role in the UN and Obama’s environmental regulations. But the removal is another clear indicator that the US is rapidly ceding its global leadership on climate action.