Trump got climate change almost entirely wrong in his Paris speech
Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the most comprehensive climate deal in the history of the planet on Thursday, taking with it the world’s best hope of limiting continued global warming.
In a speech in the White House Rose Garden, President Trump announced the United States would walk away from the landmark agreement, signed in late 2015 by 195 nations, calling it a bad deal that prioritized foreign countries’ success at the expense of American workers. Trump spent the majority of his 28-minute speech talking about economics, but when he did talk about the Paris agreement, he was almost entirely wrong. VICE News fact-checked some of his claims.
“Even if the Paris agreement were implemented in full with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only reduce a 2/10 of one degree — think of that, this much Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100… a tiny, tiny amount.”
Actually, the Paris climate agreement wasn’t going to reduce global temperatures at all. Its goal was always to cap the rise in global warming at 2 degrees Celsius — and even that goal meant coming to terms with a future where tidal areas disappear, climate refugees are a part of life, and food and water scarcity could lead to greater violence between peoples and countries. Paris was hardly optimistic. It was always the least pessimistic plan the world would sign on to.
“India will be able to double its coal production by 2020… Think of it… India can double their coal production — we’re supposed to get rid of ours.”
In fact, India has cancelled plans to build nearly 14 gigawatts of coal-fired power stations. Claims of China getting a “better deal” are just as baseless. But that’s not even the point. Part of the reason 194 other countries signed on to the Paris agreement is that it doesn’t actually require any of them to do anything specifically. They each got to pick their own path to reaching their commitments. So if the United States wanted to — for example, double coal output and quadruple solar — it could do that. It’d break the pledge, but there are no consequences for breaking it. Currently, China and India are on track to exceed their pledges. The entire agreement is a giant global pinky promise in which everybody tries to do the right thing for the planet.
“As the Wall Street Journal wrote this morning… the reality is that withdrawing is in America’s economic interest and won’t matter much to the climate.”
If the U.S. doesn’t drastically reduce its current carbon output, it’ll be responsible for an additional 0.3 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2100. And it’s not like other countries can simply pull more weight. According to a study in Nature Climate Change, any delay from the U.S. makes the overall target of limiting warming to 2 degrees unreachable.
The United States will “[end] the implementation of the nationally determined contribution and, very importantly, the Green Climate Fund, which is costing the United States a vast fortune.”
So far, the United States has given the Green Climate Fund, a fund meant to help developing countries fight climate change, $1 billion of its $3 billion pledge. While that would of course count as a “vast fortune” for any individual, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the total U.S. government’s budget, which routinely totals in the trillions.
“Compliance with the terms of the Paris accord and the onerous energy restrictions it has placed on the United States could cost America as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025, according to National Economic Research Associates…. The cost to the economy [by 2040] would be close to $3 trillion in lost GDP and 6.5 million industrial jobs, while households would have $7,000 less income, and in many cases, much worse than that.”
The National Economic Research Associates (NERA), a consulting firm, did indeed find these results in a March study, but critics say this firm and its reports are hardly unbiased.
Back in March, after Trump pledged to roll back the Clean Power Plan, White House officials cited another NERA report as a rationale for his decision. The report found the price of electricity could spike around the country thanks to the Clean Power Plan. But climate economists at the World Resources Institute found that because the plan “offers states considerable flexibility in how to achieve” emission reductions, firms like NERA can cherrypick more-expensive routes to enact those reductions, making the plan look more expensive. That result may be more desirable for NERA, since its study was reportedly paid for by a coal lobby group.
And while Trump repeatedly cited economic studies tallying the cost of staying in the Paris deal, others have examined its benefits. Moving to a “low-carbon, renewable energy-dominant energy system” could lead the global gross domestic product to increase by a total of $19 trillion by 2050, according to a March study by the International Energy Agency and the International Renewable Energy Agency.
“I cannot in good conscience support a deal that punishes the United States, which is what it does, the world’s leader in environmental protection, while imposing no meaningful obligations on the world’s leading polluters.”
The U.S. is one of those leading polluters, second in carbon dioxide emissions only to China, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Under the agreement, China will be able to increase these emissions by a staggering number of years, 13. They can do whatever they want for 13 years. Not us.”
While technically it’s true that China has pledged to stop growing its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, it is far from accurate to suggest that China could put off doing anything for 13 years and still achieve that goal. China must build an infrastructure of renewable sources of energy — like nuclear, wind, and solar power — that can generate about 800 to 1,000 gigawatts. That amount of power is “close to total current electricity-generation capacity in the United States,” according to an Obama White House press release.
Throughout his speech, Trump portrayed the Paris agreement as forcing the U.S. to act while other countries enjoyed free rein. But the agreement is nonbinding for all countries, so technically the U.S. government is also free to “do whatever they want.”
“At 1 percent growth, renewable sources of energy can meet some of our domestic demand. But at 3 or 4 percent growth, which I expect, we need all forms of available American energy.”
Trump has repeatedly promised to grow the economy at 3 or 4 percent, but that’s a highly optimistic prediction. In the first three months of 2017, the U.S. gross domestic product grew just 0.7 percent, and few economists believe it could grow much faster: Goldman Sachs economists think 1.75 percent growth is the likely “speed limit” for U.S. economic growth in the next few years. But even if the economy did grow as quickly as Trump predicts it will, similar exorbitant growth has tended to precede events like the Great Recession — so it might not be a good thing anyway.
“Our tax bill is moving along in Congress and I believe it’s doing very well. I think a lot of people will be very pleasantly surprised.”
Trump appears to have veered off-script here, but people sure will be surprised to hear “our tax bill” is moving through Congress — because no joint tax plan exists right now. So far, the Trump administration has released a budget proposal — a wish list of tax breaks, cuts to the social safety net, and higher military spending — but it remains just that, a wish list.
The Green Climate Fund “calls for developed countries to send $100 billion to developing countries all on top of America’s existing and massive foreign aid payments. So we’re going to be paying billions and billions and billions of dollars, and we’re already way ahead of anybody else. Many of the other countries haven’t spent anything. And many of them will never pay one dime.”
Again, the United States has promised to deliver the Green Climate Fund $3 billion, not $100 billion as Trump’s statement appears to suggest. And while a few countries that initially agreed to also give the fund have so far failed to do so, dozens more have followed through and given at least part of their pledged amount — in other words, more than “one dime.”
But at least one of Trump’s statements was inaccurate through no fault of the president, as it became misleading retroactively: While Trump repeatedly suggested the United States could “negotiate our way back into Paris under the terms that are fair to the United States,” leaders from France, Germany, and Italy shut down that idea hours later.
This video segment originally aired June 1, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.