The exit of the world’s largest economy and second-largest greenhouse gas polluter from the Paris accord would profoundly weaken the landmark effort to curb climate change. It could pave the way for other countries to withdraw, or to simply weaken their own commitments to cutting planet-warming pollution.
But even as the leaders themselves mounted a concerted campaign to persuade a skeptical American president to stay, negotiators for the seven nations who gathered at the Hotel San Domenico here sought to reach agreement on a joint statement that might pave the way for a decision by Mr. Trump in the days to come.
American officials were pushing for an acknowledgment that if the United States stayed in the Paris agreement it would be allowed to lower the emission-reduction targets that the Obama administration had signed on to, according to people briefed on the negotiations. United States officials argued that those targets would harm the American economy.
Aides to Mr. Trump were also pressing for language in the statement that would reassure coal producers in the United States that remaining in the Paris accord would not get in the way of the president’s efforts to help their struggling industry. The United States was pressing for the agreement to specifically welcome the use of so-called clean coal.
Many environmentalists are worried that such provisions would significantly undermine the effectiveness of the global effort to reduce global warming. Others believe that keeping the United States as a party to the agreement is worth making some compromises.
It remained unclear Friday night whether a joint statement, if one is issued, would result in a clear commitment by the United States to stay in the accord, or a vague message leaving open the possibility that Mr. Trump could still decide to end American participation in the global agreement.
Andrew Light, who was a senior climate change adviser at the State Department under Mr. Obama, said the other leaders at the summit meeting — representing the G7 members Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom, along with the European Union — would go home frustrated “if Trump blows this thing up and continues to sit on the fence.”
The other leaders confronted Mr. Trump on climate change as soon as he arrived in Europe. White House officials said Emmanuel Macron, the French president, brought the subject up during a NATO meetings in Brussels, as did Charles Michel, the Belgian prime minister. In Sicily, White House officials braced for what they knew would be “a robust discussion” of the issue.
The lobbying continued throughout the day on Friday, as the leaders met behind closed doors for a series of meetings, luncheons and a dinner, taking a break for an evening concert in the Teatro Antico di Taormina, an ancient amphitheater overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
During one extended discussion on Friday, Mr. Trump listened to the pleas of the other leaders, White House officials said, but reiterated that the environment and jobs were both important to him. He talked about environmental awards he had received and declined to say when he would make a decision on the Paris agreement.
“I want to get to the right decision,” Mr. Trump told the group, according to Mr. Cohn.
The other leaders were said to be wary of how they spoke to the American president, concerned that they could anger him easily, which could result in his deciding to pull the United States out of the Paris agreement after he returns home.
“They are all trying to figure out how do you offer convincing arguments to Trump without him feeling that you are ganging up on him,” said Alden Meyer, the director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group.
Mr. Cohn insisted that the president was willing to listen to his counterparts, saying, “He’s heard arguments that are persuasive on both sides.”
But the president has long been on the record lashing out against the Paris climate agreement, insisting that it is bad for American businesses and will cost jobs in the United States. Speaking to a group of oil rig workers last May, Mr. Trump vowed to “cancel” the accord.
As president, Mr. Trump has moved swiftly to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s climate policies, making it all but impossible for the United States to meet its current commitments under the Paris deal. The question still on the table is whether to remain part of the Paris agreement while scaling back Mr. Obama’s commitments to cutting emissions of planet-warming pollution.
Pushing for the United States to leave the accord are Mr. Trump’s senior strategist, Stephen K. Bannon; his Environmental Protection Agency chief, Scott Pruitt; and several other advisers who see a withdraw from the Paris deal as the fulfillment of Mr. Trump’s promises to the nation’s fossil fuel workers.
But Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, joined by Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have urged the president to remain in the deal. Mr. Tillerson, who as chief executive of Exxon Mobil emerged as a major corporate backer of the Paris deal when it was completed in 2015, has said that the United States needs to keep “a seat at the table” in the global efforts to address human-caused climate change.
Even some Republican foreign policy experts have made the case that withdrawing from the deal could have negative effects on Mr. Trump’s efforts to push other elements of his foreign policy agenda.
“He wants to understand how we can bring back manufacturing, bring back jobs, but still be environmentally friendly, but not have a restriction enforced upon us that makes absolutely no sense,” Mr. Cohn said.
Other countries have vowed to continue to implement the terms of the Paris Agreement, with or without the United States.
President Xi Jinping of China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas polluter, has vowed repeatedly to move ahead with steps in his country to curb climate-altering pollution regardless of what happens in the United States. In a phone call with Mr. Macron in early May, Mr. Xi told the French president that China and France “should protect the achievements of global governance, including the Paris agreement,” according to the Chinese foreign ministry.
But the United States has played a central role in pushing for provisions requiring robust and transparent oversight of how economies monitor, verify and report their emissions. There have been major questions about the accuracy of China’s emissions reporting, in particular.
“The U.S. has played a really important role in trying to develop this in other countries,” said Todd D. Stern, the lead climate envoy in the Obama administration. “If the U.S. is not part of that negotiation, that’s a loss for the world.”
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