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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

US signals it may be open to staying in Paris climate change accord - while denying U-turn

It comes as this week's UN General Assembly meeting is expected to see a rearguard push led by French president Emmanuel Macron to defend the agreement

The European Union's top climate official, Miguel Arias Canete, speaks to the press after a ministerial meeting hosted by Canada on September 16, 2017 in Montreal to push forward on implementing the Paris climate accord without the United States. Alice Chiche / AFP
The European Union's top climate official, Miguel Arias Canete, speaks to the press after a ministerial meeting hosted by Canada on September 16, 2017 in Montreal to push forward on implementing the Paris climate accord without the United States. Alice Chiche / AFP

As a United Nations General Assembly showdown looms over the US decision to quit the Paris accord on climate change, officials have signaled the Trump administration may be open to staying in the framework after all.

The administration sent a formal communication to the UN last month that the US would leave the accord as soon as possible but has promised further talks before formally withdrawing. This week's General Assembly meeting is expected to see a rearguard push led by French president Emmanuel Macron to defend the agreement.

On Saturday, Trump administration officials attending a global warming summit in Montreal said there was scope for the US to water down its commitments under the agreement instead of leaving it altogether, according to multiple participants.

The White House quickly denied a shift in policy, however.

“There has been no change in the US position on the Paris agreement,” a statement said. “As the president has made abundantly clear the US is withdrawing unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favourable to our country.”

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Officials at the Montreal ministerial gathering highlighted comments by Everett Eissenstat, a White House senior adviser, the Wall Street Journal reported. Mr Eissenstat was cited as saying the US could alter its own climate change goals within the Paris accord.

“The US has stated that they will not renegotiate the Paris accord but they will try to review the terms on which they could be engaged under this agreement,” said the European Union's environment commissioner, Miguel Arias Canete, who attended the Montreal gathering.

Mr Trump's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, is expected to echo Mr Eissenstat's more pragmatic tone at a breakfast in New York on Monday ahead of the start of the UN General Assembly, an official at the Montreal summit was cited as saying by the Wall Street Journal.

Mr Macron speaks just after Mr Trump on the opening day of the General Assembly on Tuesday and the issue of climate change looms as a head-to-head split between the pair. The French will also host a meeting on the issue in New York on Thursday.

Stewart Patrick, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Paris will host a meeting on the implementation of the agreement later this year, and other leaders have made it clear they are committed to the deal.

When Mr Trump announced in June that the US would withdraw from the accord, Canada, China and the EU immediately reaffirmed their respective commitments to the pact, which the Group of 20 declared "irreversible" the following month.

Nearly 200 countries agreed in Paris in December 2015 to curb carbon dioxide emissions with the aim of limiting the rise in average global temperatures to 1.5°C by 2050, compared to pre-industrial levels.

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