June 1 (UPI) -- Seven months after officially joining the Paris agreement, the United States will now abandon the landmark climate change initiative it helped spearhead.
President Donald Trump announced his decision to leave the accord in the White House Rose Garden Thursday afternoon -- following days of speculation about whether he would actually back out of the global partnership.
"One by one we are keeping the promises I made to the American people," Trump said. "Believe me, we have just begun.
"I don't want anything to get in our way. I'm fighting every day for the great people of this country. Therefore, in order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord."
Trump said his administration will be open to a renegotiation of the deal.
"We're getting out, but we will start to negotiate and see if we can make a deal that's fair," he said. "If we can, great -- if we can't, that's fine."
Trump, who has called climate change a "hoax," previously indicated he was considering leaving the agreement by saying it's a "bad deal" for the U.S. economy. The 195-nation pact sets out stringent standards to restrict carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases that scientists say contribute to global warming.
"It fails to live up to our environmental ideals," Trump said of the accord. "As someone who cares deeply about the environment, which I do, I cannot in good conscience support a deal that punishes the United States."
At the G7 summit in Sicily last week, several world leaders spoke with Trump on the issue and publicly expressed hope that the United States would remain in the agreement. On Thursday, China, which has the world's largest carbon footprint, reaffirmed its commitment to the deal.
Trump's decision Thursday sparked a wave of criticism from Democrats, environmental advocates and some Republicans. High-profile business leader Elon Musk, a member of three presidential advisory panels, said after Trump's announcement that he is quitting them all.
"Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world," he said.
The Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group, said Thursday that Trump's decision amounts to the president "turning his back on the public in every single U.S. state."
Conversely, the influential U.S. energy lobby and many conservatives pushed the president to pull out of the agreement, viewing it as a drain on the domestic economy and arguing that it would undermine Trump's efforts at energy independence.
Under the terms of the Paris accord, which entered into force Nov. 4, the earliest the United States can drop out of the deal is 2020 -- the same year Trump is expected to run for re-election.
Former President Barack Obama helped lead the charge in crafting the large-scale environmental initiative in December 2015 as part of his climate change agenda. Thursday, he dismissed the notion that the Paris deal is harmful to the economy.
"The nations that remain in the Paris Agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created," Obama said in a statement released by his office. "I believe the United States of America should be at the front of the pack.
"But even in the absence of American leadership; even as this administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future; I'm confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we've got."
Since he took office in January, Trump has taken several steps to nullify Obama's efforts against global warming -- including U.S. fuel efficiency standards, regulations for greenhouse gas emissions and offshore drilling.
Most of the 195 signatories ratified the agreement in April 2016, making it one of the largest global initiatives in history and the most unified international effort against climate change ever mounted.
Some experts have speculated that the Paris accord might be better off without the United States, as they say Trump's skepticism toward climate change could hinder the pact's goals.