“So we’re getting out. But we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.”
So that’s that. After months of fevered speculation and lobbying, Trump sticks to his campaign pledge to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord. He does so with a caveat that’s delivered rather casually – the US will renegotiate this pact, or maybe some other pact, aimed at ensuring the future liveability of the planet. But if it doesn’t work out, that’s OK.
“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 2.7m lost jobs by 2025, according to the National Economic Research Associates.”
Trump’s vision of a hobbled America, ransacked by pointless environmental regulation, draws upon a highly disputed study published in March. National Economic Research Associates has done work for front groups for coal companies in the past and this study was at the behest of the American Council for Capital Formation, which counts Exxon Mobil, the American Petroleum Institute and Charles Koch as major donors.
The Paris agreement itself places no “energy restrictions” on the US – it’s a voluntary agreement that leaves it up to countries to decide how to cut their emissions. But several economists have warned that leaving the Paris agreement will stymie clean energy investment and ensure the production of solar panels and wind turbines – the very blue-collar jobs Trump claims to value – will take place in China rather than the US.
It could get worse still – some countries are mulling a carbon “tariff” on US goods over Trump’s decision to swim against the energy transition that is underway. None of this will help a coal industry that was in decline long before the Paris deal. This is perhaps why business support for Paris is broad, uniting the likes of Facebook, Goldman Sachs, Apple and even BP.
“For example, 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. India makes its participation contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developed countries. There are many other examples. But the bottom line is that the Paris Accord is very unfair, at the highest level, to the United States.”
Trump repeatedly touches on a familiar theme of the US being taken advantage of by foreign ingrates. The Paris deal was considered a breakthrough because it required all nations to curb their emissions – including, crucially, China and India. Given that both these countries do not have more than a century of mass industrialization behind them, unlike the US, their commitments should be seen in context. Indeed, recent analysis has shown that China may have already peaked its coal use and will be reducing its emissions sooner than expected, although suspicions linger over its accounting methods.
Either way, both China and India have reiterated their commitment to the Paris deal in recent weeks and are investing heavily in renewable energy. That they are doing this with tens of millions of their people still without electricity and other basic services shows that perhaps it isn’t terribly unfair to expect the world’s wealthiest nation to do likewise.
“In short, the agreement doesn’t eliminate coal jobs, it just transfers those jobs out of America and the United States, and ships them to foreign countries.”
According to the Department of Energy there are about 373,000 Americans working in solar energy – more than double that of the coal industry. The coal sector has been shedding jobs for decades, driven by automation of work and, more recently, the abundance of cheap natural gas.
Major coal mining firms have conceded those jobs aren’t coming back and it’s not quite clear how American mining jobs can be shifted overseas given the US isn’t a coal exporter and US power plants aren’t crying out for extra minerals to keep the lights on. What’s more likely, according to economists, is that growth in renewable energy innovation and construction jobs will tip overseas, probably to China, which has committed to investing $360bn in the sector in the coming years.
“Our country will be at grave risk of brownouts and blackouts, our businesses will come to a halt in many cases, and the American family will suffer the consequences in the form of lost jobs and a very diminished quality of life.”
This dark vision would perhaps approach reality if a.) the only source of electricity in the US was coal, rather than a mix of nuclear, gas, coal and renewables, b.) the Paris agreement set any sort of binding limit on energy sources, and c.) the US government followed through with this by shutting down power plants rather than asking states to submit plans to transition away from polluting fossil fuels (as the Obama administration did). None of that has actually happened or was slated to happen.
“Even if the Paris agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree – think of that; this much – Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100. Tiny, tiny amount.”
White House “talking points” distributed before Trump’s speech cite MIT research for the 0.2-degree reduction. This prompted a swift rebuttal from the actual source, a collaboration between MIT and Climate Interactive. The researchers point out the reduction in expected warming from emissions cuts promised at Paris will be 0.9 degrees by 2100, not 0.2 degrees.
This still won’t be enough to avoid breaching the warming limit set out in the Paris deal but it’s worth considering that 0.9C is roughly the global temperature rise experienced since the industrial revolution. People living in southern Florida, or Bangladesh or beside a coral reef that provides food and a livelihood would have radically different lives if the global temperature increase was double its current level.
“The United States, under the Trump administration, will continue to be the cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth. We’ll be the cleanest. We’re going to have the cleanest air. We’re going to have the cleanest water.”
Under the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has paused or scrapped rules that prevent the dumping of mining waste into streams, curb emissions from vehicles and power plants and stop mercury and arsenic seeping into waterways. The EPA’s proposed budget also cuts measures that prevent lead in drinking water and also scraps clean-ups of the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico and shrinks the funding of enforcement of pollution rules.
“And we’ll sit down with the Democrats and all of the people that represent either the Paris accord or something that we can do that’s much better than the Paris accord. And I think the people of our country will be thrilled, and I think then the people of the world will be thrilled. But until we do that, we’re out of the agreement.”
In common with some other policy areas, Trump seems to be believe his negotiating skills can overcome issues that leaders have grappled with for years. Paris came about after 20 years of often painful incremental manoeuvrings that included the disappointment of Copenhagen in 2009, and world leaders have already made clear they aren’t “thrilled” at the prospect of reversing this breakthrough.
France, Italy and Germany released a statement saying that the Paris deal can’t be redone, while the EU and China jointly declared the agreement was “irreversible”. The UK, Canada and Australia all reaffirmed their commitment to the agreement with Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, saying he is “deeply disappointed” with Trump’s decision. UN secretary general Antonio Guterres called it a “major disappointment.”
The US may return to Paris, with Trump or a future president, but there will be lingering diplomatic damage that will haunt the country on the international stage far more than the Kyoto reversal under George W Bush.
“At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country?”
Well, at this point there’s certainly not much laughter.
“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
Here, Trump seems to confuse the venue of the UN climate agreement signing for the actual subject of the accord. It’s also worth noting that Bill Peduto, mayor of Pittsburgh, committed to the Paris deal, along with dozens of other US municipalities, after Trump’s announcement. About 65,000 people in Pennsylvania work in the renewable energy industry, more than mining, oil and gas combined.
“Of course, the world’s top polluters have no affirmative obligations under the green fund, which we terminated.”
Again Trump portrays the Paris deal as an onerous ball and chain around the ankle of a struggling America, which somehow isn’t now one of the world’s leading polluters. The climate fund is voluntary and Barack Obama pledged about $3bn to it. Given the scale of the climate challenge – rising seas, drought and disasters are already estimated to displace about 20 million people a year, according to the UN – even this funding is likely to be insufficient.
“And exiting the agreement protects the United States from future intrusions on the United States’ sovereignty and massive future legal liability. Believe me, we have massive legal liability if we stay in.”
One of the – ultimately successful – arguments put by opponents of the Paris deal to Trump was that his domestic agenda of revoking Obama-era environmental regulations would be jeopardised by the agreement. Architects of the deal have disputed this, pointing out that it is voluntary and non-binding and would carry no weight in a US court.
Ultimately, the only recourse to Trump’s decision will be through the ballot box. The notice period for withdrawing from the Paris deal expires in November 2020 – the month of the next presidential election. Climate change will likely be, for once, a live issue at the election.