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Donald Trump recently marked 100 days as US president (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The debate around US membership of the Paris climate deal took a strange turn this week.

In their eagerness to keep Donald Trump’s administration on board, key figures stressed he had a legal right to water down the US commitment.

Former US lead negotiators Todd Stern and Susan Biniaz have been telling anyone who will listen that while the Paris Agreement encourages countries to ramp up ambition, it doesn’t prohibit moves in the other direction. They should know: they had this scenario in mind when they thrashed out the deal.

EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete gave political cover to this legal loophole when he told the Financial Times the US could “chart its own path”.

It was left to French ex-diplomat Laurence Tubiana to remind everyone of the spirit of the agreement: no backsliding.

To make my point clear.Of course US government CAN legally downsize its contribution but SHOULD Not. https://t.co/Eyko2ULgIT

— Laurence Tubiana (@LaurenceTubiana) May 4, 2017

This was all in response to the persistence of Trump’s anti-Paris advisers. Environment chief Scott Pruitt is reportedly arguing that to stay in the deal could give ammunition to those opposing a planned rollback of domestic climate rules.

He’s got a point. Green groups have promised to fight Trump’s coal-friendly agenda through the courts. The inconsistency between US policy and its…