ROME - European leaders expressed dismay and anger in equal measure Thursday at President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the United States, the world's second-worst polluter, from the landmark Paris climate accord.
They saw it as rebuke and warned it would make it harder to slow the pace of climate change. Government officials in several major European capitals said the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 agreement would further strain a Western alliance they worry is unraveling.
Others said the move would affect America's standing in the world and undermine the country's traditional global leadership role as it breaks with virtually every other nation on the issue of climate change.
The European Union's climate change commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete, said the announcement "has galvanized us rather than weakened us, and this vacuum will be filled by new, broad, committed leadership. Europe and its strong partners all around the world are ready to lead the way."
The president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, said: "It is a matter of trust and leadership. This decision will hurt the U.S. and the planet."
Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal group of lawmakers in the European Parliament, tweeted a report on the impact of rising sea levels on Hawaii, adding: "Make America small again."
And Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, tweeted that the city hall there "will be illuminated with green to affirm our will to implement" the Paris Agreement.
Environmental NGOs were scathing in their reaction. Greenpeace said: "By withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, Trump has turned the U.S. from a climate leader into a climate deadbeat."
The leaders of Germany, France and Italy issued a joint statement expressing “regret” at the decision.
European leaders lobbied Washington with mounting urgency in recent weeks, imploring the Trump administration not to break with the agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Ever since Trump blasted the accord during the 2016 presidential campaign, saying it would cost the U.S. economy trillions of dollars with no tangible environmental benefit, European leaders have been bracing themselves for him to fulfill his pledge to break with the Paris pact.
They made strenuous efforts to dissuade Trump last month at the Group of Seven summit in Sicily, where a frustrated German Chancellor Angela Merkel highlighted the isolation of the U.S. in climate change discussions as a matter of 6-1.
In March, European leaders pursued a new tactic — with Canadian and U.S. business support — by making an economic argument, warning that if the U.S. withdrew, it would miss out on commercial opportunities in clean growth and lose out in energy innovation and clean-energy job creation.
Even at the 11th hour, efforts to dissuade Trump continued. Senior European policymakers tweeted to him, asking him not to break with the pact. And alarmed lawmakers in the European Parliament warned "climate change is not a fairy tale."
Just before Trump's withdrawal announcement Thursday, a Vatican official, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, warned the break would be a "disaster for everyone," but would be seen by the pontiff as a "slap in the face."
"Saying that we need to rely on coal and oil is like saying that the Earth is not round," the bishop said. He and some other European officials blamed the fossil fuel industry in the U.S., saying it has an outsized influence on the Trump administration.
At their first ever meeting last month, Pope Francis handed Trump a signed copy of his 2015 encyclical calling for protection of the environment from the effects of climate change.
The accord, agreed on by nearly 200 countries in 2015, aims to cut emissions blamed for global warming. The United States committed to reducing by 2025 its own emissions by 26 to 28 percent compared with 2005 levels. Scientists have said a U.S. withdrawal from the pact could speed up the effects of climate change.
Chinese officials said the move would damage trust among leading powers in multilateral negotiations. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said his country would honor its commitments on climate change. "China will continue to implement the promises made in the Paris accord," Li said.
Some European policymakers are now turning their focus to how they could obstruct the U.S. withdrawal by pursuing legal avenues.
On Wednesday, Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president and a lawyer, said at a conference of the Confederation of German Employers in Berlin that "the Americans can't just get out of the agreement," adding that "it takes three to four years" to pull out.
Other European policymakers want to explore ways of enticing American energy innovators and climate researchers to relocate to Europe, using tax advantages and government subsidies to attract them. And some are advocating the imposition of carbon taxes on U.S. exports to EU nations.
But leaders of Europe's nationalist populist parties cheered the abandonment of the pact. Britain's Nigel Farage tweeted: "Trump keeps election promise to ditch the Paris climate accord and everyone is shocked. It's called democracy."