This ambiguous position will be on stage at the meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, at which representatives of the nearly 200 signatories to the Paris agreement will gather beginning Nov. 6 in Bonn.
“The U.S. is still at the table,” said James L. Connaughton, who served as an environmental adviser to George W. Bush. “It’s very important for the United States to have a presence. The U.S. is looked to and heavily engaged regardless of differences of opinion.”
The two-week session promises to be a volatile mix of anger toward the United States for declaring its intention to withdraw from the accord, mixed with lingering hope it might stay. Developing countries, particularly some of the most vulnerable to climate change, will most likely use the spotlight of the forum to denounce the Trump administration’s growing ranks of climate deniers and recent moves to repeal regulations limiting greenhouse gases.
Credit Andrew Harnik/Associated Press
“Resentment toward an insult-hurling, free-riding U.S. president is sure to boil over,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House climate change adviser. “Trump is going to be vilified in no uncertain terms.”
The Trump administration, for its part, will also display something of a split personality. Thomas A. Shannon, undersecretary for political affairs at the State Department and a respected career diplomat, will lead a small American delegation. Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, expressed interest in leading the American negotiating team and may still attend the conference in some capacity, according to several people familiar with the administration’s deliberations. The E.P.A. did not respond to questions about the administrator’s plans.
Climate change activists said they expected to see Trump administration officials championing fossil fuels at the climate conference, an unwelcome position among the thousands of delegates and observers who say the world must move away from polluting sources of energy. But, they said, the presence of Mr. Pruitt, who says he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming, would be particularly provocative.
“The message would be, ‘We don’t care.’ The world would see an E.P.A. administrator who doesn’t even believe climate change is real,” said Carol Browner, who led the agency under Bill Clinton.
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Behind the scenes, however, diplomats said they believed the Trump negotiating team would be constructive — and in fact probably take some of the same positions as the Obama administration. They are expected to argue, for example, that countries of all levels of wealth should be held to the same legal standards, particularly when it comes to reporting progress in meeting emissions goals.
That will be a tricky needle to thread, said Andrew Light, who served as a senior adviser on climate change at the State Department in the Obama administration. He said other countries would invariably question America’s right to make demands.
“Every substantive point they put down will be met with the question of ‘how do we take seriously a hard-and-fast position over your contribution to institutions you claim you are going to walk away from?’” he said.
Underscoring the mixed messaging from the Trump administration will be the defiant presence of American governors and mayors. A coalition of philanthropies led by Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, and Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental activist, was expected to announce Wednesday that they will cover the approximately $200,000 costs of a pavilion to showcase efforts of American states, cities and businesses in meeting the goals of the Paris agreement.
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The pavilion, a space adjacent to the government negotiating center, is an expense normally borne by the federal government to highlight steps the country is taking on things like developing clean energy. E & E News reported that the Trump administration had declined to fund the pavilion this year.
“We’re stepping into the breach,” said Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, a Democrat. “The president has run up the white flag of surrender to climate change, and we intend to wave our flag.”
Mr. Bloomberg said he felt strongly that there be a way to show other countries that the United States is represented by leaders who are committed to tackling climate change despite the fact that Mr. Trump has labeled it a hoax.
“He runs the U.S. government, he has a right to do that,” Mr. Bloomberg said of Mr. Trump. But, he asserted, “The American people and American industry are pretty much all behind doing what the Paris agreement is designed to do, and that is to cut the amount of greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere so we will slow down and maybe even stop climate change, which has the potential to destroy the world.”
The lingering question over the Bonn talks will be whether the United States will indeed leave the international accord. That will probably remain unanswered for some time.
Mr. Bloomberg said the debate over Mr. Trump’s intentions should not be a distraction from the urgent business of addressing climate change.
“Don’t sit there and waste your time talking about should’ve and would’ve and could’ve,” he said. “I hope the administration will change their mind and will realize this is a very serious thing, but we can’t sit around. We have to act for our children and grandchildren.”