Despite last-ditch appeals from the chief executives of several major US companies and months of letters and outreach to the White House from some of America's largest companies and CEOs, President Trump announced that the United States would exit the Paris climate agreement, breaking ranks from nearly all the world's countries and saying he would try to renegotiate the deal or enter into a new one.
"We're getting out," Trump said in a Rose Garden announcement today, "but we will start to negotiate and we will see if we can make a deal that's fair. If we can, that's great. If we can't, that's fine."
In response, one CEO after another tweeted disappointment at the announcement, companies issued statements committing to action on climate change and one high-profile member of Trump's business advisory council said he would leave the forum in response, after earlier threatening on Twitter to do just that. "Am departing presidential councils," tweeted Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. "Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world."
General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, who had said during a speech to students at Georgetown University in May that the business community "has kind of moved on in this debate," tweeted a similar refrain, calling upon business to lead the way on global climate standards. "Disappointed with today's decision on the Paris Agreement," he wrote in a tweet. "Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government."
Other companies and CEOs joined the chorus. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said on Twitter he was "deeply disappointed" by Trump's decision and "will double our efforts to fight climate change," while Microsoft's Brad Smith said in a statement that "we believe that climate change is an urgent issue that demands global action."
Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris, who was the driving force behind a letter signed by 30 high-profile CEOs earlier this month encouraging Trump to honor the US commitment, said that his company would "continue to collaborate with President Trump as well as other businesses, NGOs and academics" on greenhouse gas reductions. In a statement following Trump's announcement, Intel said it "firmly" believes the United States should keep participating in the accord. "Withdrawal won't change our investment in renewable energy, and we will continue to advocate for the US to engage."
The response follows months of letters and outreach to Trump from companies in industries as diverse as manufacturing, technology and energy to remain part of the 195-nation accord, making arguments that went well beyond sustainability, good corporate citizenship or the need for American leadership. While Trump's explanation for exiting the accord was, in part, that it would hurt domestic manufacturing and cost US jobs, CEOs' appeals to the president have been largely business-focused, saying rather that an exit threatens American competitiveness, raises the risk of negative trade implications and could hurt their ability to create jobs.
Leading up to the announcement, several CEOs made final arguments to Trump or issued pleas for staying in the deal. Bloomberg reported that on Tuesday Apple CEO Tim Cook placed a call to the White House to urge the president to stay in. The same day, Musk tweeted an open threat to Trump, saying he would lose him on the business advisory councils if Trump exited the accord. "I've done all I can to advise directly to POTUS, through others in WH & via councils, that we remain," Musk wrote.
When a follower asked him what he would do if Trump makes the call to exit, Musk said he would have "no choice" but to leave the White House councils of which he is a member.
The final push by CEOs also included letters that were featured in full-page ads in newspapers, such as one signed by 25 companies that ran in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal today and earlier in May. The ads were sponsored by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and the sustainability nonprofit Ceres and included a shorter version of a letter that was first signed in April, arguing that "the United States can best exercise global leadership and advance US interests by remaining a full partner in this vital global effort." Google, Intel, Unilever and Schneider Electric were just a few of the names that signed the letter.
Even ExxonMobil had appealed to Trump to stay in the agreement. In a letter dated May 9, CEO Darren Woods wrote to Trump in what the Financial Times called a "last-ditch personal plea," arguing that staying in allows the United States to remain "at the negotiating table to ensure a level playing field" on energy sources. That letter followed a prior appeal by the fossil fuels giant, which remains under fire from shareholders over climate issues, to the White House in March.
Besides Musk, a few other members of Trump's advisory council had signed letters opposing withdrawal from the agreement. The May letter spearheaded by Liveris urging Trump to stay in the agreement was also signed by JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Disney CEO Robert Iger, both of whom Trump named to his business advisory council.
Efforts by Corporate America to influence Trump on the agreement go back at least to shortly after the election, when hundreds of large and small companies, ranging from Starbucks to Monsanto, signed a letter in support of the Paris climate agreement. "Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk," the letter said, calling the Paris climate agreement a "historic opportunity to tackle climate change."