Fact-checking Donald Trump's statement withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement
President Donald Trump announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris accord on climate change. All but two countries signed the agreement. But Trump said the deal puts the United States at a disadvantage.
"The United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord," Trump said June 1, 2017, "but begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States."
The Paris accord had several ambitious goals. Signatories agreed to do their part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep the world’s temperature to just 1.5 degrees Celsius above what it was before industrial production took root.
Each country set its own targets, with reductions to begin in 2020. By mid century, the goal would be zero greenhouse gas emissions.
President Barack Obama had pledged to reduce emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
Wealthy nations agreed to provide $100 billion a year to help developing countries move away from fossil fuels and use more renewable power supplies.
We reviewed a number of claims Trump made during his White House speech. (We’ll be updating this article.)
Trump cited a number of negative statistics about the predicted economic impact from the climate deal, including a $3 trillion drop in gross domestic product, 6.5 million industrial sector jobs lost and 86 percent reduction in coal production, all by 2040.
Take these statistics with a grain of salt.
All of these statistics come from a March 2017 study, prepared by NERA Economic Consulting, that estimates the potential impact of hypothetical regulatory actions necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. The study makes assumptions that gave several economics and environmental professors pause when reacting to the NERA study for ClimateFeedback.org.
Yale professor Kenneth Gillingham said the NERA model tends to result in higher costs than other economic models. The study assumes certain hypothetical regulations, but "one could easily model other actions with much lower costs," and it also ignores the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, like avoiding the negative effects of climate change.
Additional professors pointed out that the study assumes:
• that other countries don’t make emission reductions in line with the Paris Agreement, therefore leading American companies to relocate;
• that industries are static and don’t change to adapt to the regulations, and;
• that there would be no increase in clean electricity generation compared to the baseline scenario.
In other words, the NERA model makes assumptions that generate an extreme result.
"The NERA model provides useful information, but it is important for it to be taken in context of model results from other models and not cherry-picked as was done here," Gillingham said.
Under the Paris agreement, each country publicly declares how much it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and what it will do to get there. So in that sense, the agreement doesn’t allow or disallow specific actions, like building plants.
Regardless, China has actually taken steps to stop building coal plants. In January, China stopped construction of 103 new coal-fired plants. The move sidelined scores of projects where work had already begun and put 120 gigawatts of capacity on hold.
Between the effects of an economic slowdown and an effort to move toward less-polluting sources, China has cut its use of coal three years in a row.
The key benchmark under the Paris agreement is the overall reduction in emissions. Climate Action Tracker, a project of three research groups, reported in May that "China’s carbon dioxide emissions appear to have peaked more than a decade ahead of its Paris Agreement commitment."
China has promised that by 2030, it would reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 60–65 percent below 2005 levels, and increase the share of non-fossil energy to around 20 percent.
Still, the Climate Action Tracker assessment comes with a warning.
Researchers said that China’s goals are "not ambitious enough to limit warming to below 2°C, let alone the 1.5°C limit in the Paris Agreement, unless other countries make much deeper reductions and comparably greater effort than China."
Trump’s statement about the amount of temperature reduction expected under the treaty is broadly accurate but needs some additional context.
According to John Reilly, who co-directs the Joint Program on Science and Policy of Global Change at MIT, the Paris agreement would reduce global temperature by two-tenths of one degree Celsius compared with earlier climate treaties.
The Paris deal was expected to reduce global temperatures by building on the earlier 2009 Copenhagen Accord, imposing deeper carbon emission cuts on signatories and bringing new countries like China into an international climate pact.
Yet as the Paris Agreement was under negotiation, Reilly co-authored an MIT report that criticized the deal for not making steep enough cuts in emissions to reach the Paris agreement’s ambitious goal of capping this century’s temperature increases at 2 degrees Celsius.
"Those pledges shave 0.2 C of warming if they’re maintained through 2100, compared with what we assessed would have been the case by extending existing measures (due to expire in 2020) based on earlier international agreements in Copenhagen and Cancun," Reilly said in October 2015, when the MIT study was published. "We are making progress, but if 2 C stabilization is our goal, it’s not nearly enough."
However, Reilly said that tackling climate problems depends on taking a series of incremental steps to reduce carbon emissions, and noted that pulling out of the Paris agreement would require even bigger reductions in the future.
Trump has consistently argued that the United States economy can grow at 3 percent or 4 percent a year, but that’s not a realistic expectation.
While that level of growth was common between 1948 and 2005, it hasn’t happened since -- and economists we checked with recently were skeptical that it could happen with any consistency in the near future.
So that makes Trump’s concerns about growth-related brownouts and blackouts seem unwarranted.
Economic growth, economists say, stems from two major factors: population growth and improvements in productivity. But neither of these factors are well positioned to drive 3 percent or 4 percent growth, they say.
The working-age population isn’t growing as fast as it used to due to lower birth rates. And Trump himself wants to curb the other way population can grow -- through immigration.
Meanwhile, productivity growth is equally out of reach of policymakers. "You can create bubbles to prop up GDP growth for a few years, such as the 2005 to 2008 housing bubble, but to boost productivity growth materially and durably, you need to make important changes over long numbers of years," said Chris Lafakis, a senior economist at Moody’s. "You also need transformative technological innovation, which is not predictable."
India does have plans to nearly double its coal production, and the agreement does not prevent that. But the Paris Agreement does not even mention the word coal, nor does it do anything to put a global moratorium on coal.
Each signatory has set its own goals and has to report on its progress.
A 2015 report by the Economic Times, a financial daily from India, discussed a plan of Coal India Limited, a state-owned coal mining company, to double its coal production by 2020.
The story goes on to give the caveat that the doubling of production is subject to land acquisition and environment clearance, all of which is yet to happen.
Coal India produces around 84 percent of India's overall coal production, and its decision to double coal production would technically mean India is planning to almost double its coal production.
"The environment is non-negotiable and we are extremely careful about it," Anil Swarup, the top bureaucrat in the coal ministry, told Reuters in 2015. "(But) our dependence on coal will continue. There are no other alternatives available."
But is India allowed to double coal production by 2020?
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change says the Paris Agreement requires all parties to put forward their best efforts through "nationally determined contributions" (NDCs) and to strengthen these efforts in the years ahead.
This means all parties will have to regularly report on their emissions and implementation efforts.
India, in ratifying the agreement on October 2, 2016, said it would follow a path of low carbon commitment in tandem with its national laws and development agenda, including eradication of poverty. India also committed to reduce emissions 33 to 35 percent of 2005 levels by 2030.
What it effectively means is that the agreement allows the nations who signed the Paris Agreement to set their own reduction targets to help achieve the overall target of reducing the rise in global warming below 2 degree Celsius.
Invoking the city of Pittsburgh, Pa., has a certain irony, because the city voted overwhelmingly for Trump's rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Clinton won almost 60 percent of the vote in Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh. The percentage was even higher in many precincts within the city of Pittsburgh itself. (Allegheny County includes a range of suburbs in addition to the city.)
That said, the picture changes if you look at the surrounding counties, particularly Beaver, Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties. These areas -- which are heavily blue-collar, disproportionately rural, especially reliant on energy extraction, and historically Democratic -- went particularly strongly for Trump in 2016. Hillary Clinton managed to win only about 30 to 40 percent of the vote there.
Trump's success in counties like these helped him flip Pennsylvania to the Republican column and win the presidency. But across the country, cities such as Pittsburgh with a more urban, educated population went heavily for Clinton.
Trump opened his speech saying his team was tracking the terrorist attack in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. The most recent reports say that the gun fire that took place at a resort came from a lone man aiming to rob gamblers.