Trump Mulls Climate Accord

Views Vary on Impact of Walking Away from Paris Climate Obligations

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The president is once again keeping industry in suspense over whether the U.S. will withdraw from an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by converting to lower-carbon energy sources such as wind. (Courtesy photos)

OMAHA (DTN) -- The head of the Renewable Fuels Association sees no damage to ethanol production or exports if President Donald Trump decides to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord. But other major businesses in the agricultural supply chain are urging the White House not to walk away from the Paris agreement.

Multiple news agencies have reported President Trump is moving to withdraw from the climate agreement, which former President Barack Obama helped negotiate. Trump had vowed during the presidential campaign to pull out of the Paris deal, but he was noncommittal on Wednesday. First, Trump sent out a tweet stating, "I will be announcing my decision on the Paris Accord over the next few days. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!"

Later on, when asked by reporters if he was leaning toward withdrawing, Trump said, "You're going to find out very soon."

Trump acknowledged he was hearing from corporate executives and others trying to sway his decision. "I'm hearing from a lot of people, both ways. Both ways."

The situation is playing out similar to the White House debate in late April over whether to pull the U.S. out of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Some White House advisers want Trump to pull out of the Paris agreement while others argue the U.S. needs to remain engaged on climate change internationally.

Climate change remains a race for clean energy to reduce long-term greenhouse gas emissions, which has implications for all energy users, as well as production of food in the future. The U.S. committed in the Paris agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 28% from 2005 levels by 2030.

Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said in a statement Wednesday that the U.S. can continue to lead the world on clean energy development and reducing carbon emissions even if the U.S. is not part of the Paris agreement.

"Smart policies like the Renewable Fuel Standard have empowered consumers and mobilized the marketplace to invest in clean energy technology and infrastructure that will continue to lower greenhouse emissions from transportation," Dinneen said. He added, "Our industry will continue to innovate, grow and fight climate change regardless of whether the U.S. is party to the Paris agreement."

RFA pointed to a USDA report released in the final days of the Obama administration showing that farmer practices and more efficient corn-ethanol plants have 43% lower greenhouse-gas emissions than gasoline does. The USDA study showed that with the pace of increased corn yields, conservation practices and precision cropping techniques, corn ethanol could have 50% lower emissions than gasoline by 2022.

Responding to a question from DTN, Dinneen added that RFA does not anticipate that pulling out of the agreement would harm ethanol exports. "Indeed, as other countries continue their efforts to reduce carbon emissions, the need for biofuels such as ethanol only grows."

Ernie Shea, president of Solutions from the Land, said the president's indecision on climate change has mobilized more groups around the issue of climate-smart agriculture. Shea is part of a team that formed the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance that includes partners from dozens of industry groups.

"We're sensing that people are beginning to revalue the voice of agriculture in some of these conversations," Shea said.

Still, Shea said if the U.S. were to withdraw from the Paris Accord, it would be a lost opportunity for the country to continue taking a lead in further international climate efforts.

"It demonstrates poor judgment from the president and his inner circle to walk away from Paris, but we can't stop that," Shea said.

Shea also notes the complications farmers face now with increasingly erratic weather also do not end if the U.S. chooses not to take action on greenhouse gas emissions. With the global population expected to increase to 9.6 billion people by 2050, food production must increase by as much as 70% to meet the demand.

"These problems don't just go away because Trump backs out of the Paris agreement," Shea said.

So far, 147 countries, including the U.S., have ratified or joined the Paris agreement, which was originally signed by 195 countries. Major trading partners have all signed the agreement, including the European Union, China, Japan, India, Canada and Mexico. (…)

Debbie Reed, executive direct of the Coalition on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, said the countries involved in the Paris agreement are just now starting to work on rules regarding carbon trading options internationally. Once accounting measures are set, that could open the door for internationally trading carbon-sequestration credits, Reed said.

"So withdrawal hurts no one's interest but our own because we won't be at the table to negotiate in our own best interests," Reed said.

Last month, several major businesses wrote to the White House asking the president to stay in the climate agreement, including several companies with major agricultural supply chains such as Cargill, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Dow Chemical, DuPont, General Mills, Kellogg's, Monsanto, Unilever and Walmart.

"All of the companies up and down the ag supply chain are in this for the long haul," Reed said. "They can't pull out. They have to remain in, not only because of the impacts of climate change, but their buyers are requiring it, other countries are requiring it and they see that climate change is real and they need to be able to source products 10 to 20 years into the future. So we're just handicapping ourselves."

Other companies have made commitments to draw more of their energy from renewable power, such as Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewery company, which set a goal of 100% electricity from renewable power by 2025.

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Chris Clayton