Exclusive: World Leaders Must Bring Donald Trump 'Back to the Table' on Climate Change, Says U.N. Deputy Chief

Amina Mohammed
United Nations Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed of Nigeria speaks to reporters after she was formally sworn-in to the post at United Nations headquarters in New York on February 28. Mohammed says that the U.N. must continue to engage the U.S. administration on climate change. Mike Segar/Reuters

The deputy secretary-general of the United Nations says the Trump administration must be “brought back to the table” on climate change, despite repeatedly pledging to pull out of an agreement aiming to reduce carbon emissions.

Amina J. Mohammed says the international community has a responsibility to convince President Donald Trump of the benefits of fighting global warming after he repeatedly pledged to pull out of an agreement aiming to reduce carbon emissions.

“I think that where people are not well-informed, we have to go back and do that. It seems as though we are taking 10 steps forward and five back, but it’s an imperative. We don’t have an option,” Mohammed tells Newsweek in an exclusive interview. “The U.S. is an important leader in this and we believe that they will do the right thing once they are better informed about it.”

Mohammed says it will be “very difficult” for Trump to completely pull out of the Paris climate deal brokered by President Barack Obama and world leaders in 2016, which seeks to limit global temperature rise to under 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The United States has already ratified the deal and the White House would have to wait three years to announce a withdrawal. Officially exiting the compact would take another year after the formal request. 

Nevertheless, Mohammed, the former environment minister of Nigeria, says she and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres are “concerned” by the noises coming out of the U.S.

“As one of the leading emitters, it is important that we understand [America's] responsibility to the international community. The challenges are real, they do have implications for the rest of the world,” says Mohammed, speaking via telephone from Marrakech, Morocco, where she was a speaker at the 2017 Ibrahim Governance Weekend, an event aimed at promoting good governance in Africa.

The U.S. is the world’s second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China. It's also the second-largest emitter per capita, with each U.S. citizen producing almost 20 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year.

While campaigning for the White House, Trump promised to “cancel” the Paris deal. Trump has since said he has an “open mind” about the agreement, but several of his advisers have said the president intends to withdraw from the deal.

In March, Trump signed an executive order to dismantle the Clean Power Plan introduced under Obama that sought to close hundreds of coal-fired power plants and replace them with wind and solar farms. The Obama administration introduced the plan as a means of complying with the Paris agreement, and so Trump’s order to shut it down could be seen as a tacit rejection of the deal.

But Trump's tense relationship with the United Nations' leadership goes beyond climate change policies. Trump said in a budget outline put forward in March that he wants to reduce funding to the U.N. “by setting the expectation that these organizations rein in costs and that the funding burden be shared more fairly among members."

He added that the U.S. would contribute no more than 25 percent of the U.N.’s global peacekeeping budget. Washington currently contributes about 28.6 percent of the mission's $7.87 billion budget, or $2.25 billion.

Mohammed said it's true her organization may need reform. “I am very concerned when the United States says it wants to withdraw," she says, "And I have to ask the question, ‘Why? Can we be more efficient?’”

But Mohammed says the United Nations must also be prepared to move forward without the backing of its founding member.

“The global community is stepping up to show that areas where the United States has decided to withdraw are important enough for them to begin to fill the gap,” says Mohammed. “The majority of the world believes in this institution that represents the voices of those who look for peace and security and human rights and development.”