By the end of the summit, many were beginning to suspect that this will not be a question of re-joining. The U.S. may never leave in the first place.
When Donald Trump announced his decision in June, observers noted that out of several options to take the U.S. out of the accord, he chose the one that would take the longest. He could have declared Barack Obama’s decision to not put the agreement to the U.S. Congress (by not deeming it a “treaty”) to have been invalid. The Congress could have then rejected the agreement, taking the US out right away.
Instead, the Trump administration chose to go through the official process of withdrawal, which takes more than three years. The ‘earliest opportunity’ referred to by Garber just happens to be the day after the next U.S. presidential election in 2020. In the mean time, the US will continue sending delegates to take their seat at the table, “in order to ensure a level playing field that benefits and protects U.S. interests,” according to a State Department official.
The U.S. presence was greatly slimmed down, with about 20 negotiators taking part – less than a third of the number Washington usually sends. For the first time, the US did not set up a pavilion at the summit to showcase its climate efforts. On Monday, the US government staged its only public event – a panel extolling the virtues of fossil fuels such as coal in a clean energy future. It enraged activists and governors and mayors who were in Bonn as part of a rival U.S. delegation. And it excited Trump’s base, which was surely the point.
But behind the scenes in the negotiations, it was as if nothing had changed. “They were sticking to the same messages as under Obama,” said one European delegate.
The negotiators, all career civil servants, stuck to long-held U.S. negotiating preoccupations. They pushed for developing countries such as China and India to be more transparent in verifying their emissions reductions. They resisted efforts by those same countries to re-insert the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ into the agreement – the idea that developing countries should have to do less in fighting climate change than developed ones. And they resisted efforts to increase oversight over climate finance from developed countries.
It was as if nothing had changed. And the question kept being asked – why are the U.S. negotiators so concerned about the rules of an accord they are ostensibly leaving?
Gardner was keen to stress that the U.S. would “rejoin” the accord under the right conditions. It may be that at some point over the next year, the administration will find a face-saving way to stay in the accord. It could be something as simple as adding supportive language on fossil fuels into the rulebook – something that would also make Poland, the host of next year’s summit, happy.
This is more likely to happen sooner rather than later. The U.S. may still be playing hardball at the negotiating table, but as long as Washington is on the way out, they are playin