On January 20, President Joe Biden announced the United States’ reentry into the Paris climate accord after former President Donald Trump withdrew from the international climate agreement in 2017. Although rejoining the accord is the first, most basic step toward mitigating climate change’s worst consequences, Fox News quickly joined a coterie of right-wing politicians, climate change skeptics, and fossil fuel industry shills in denouncing the decision, dominating the conversation on cable news.
Right-wing outlets such as Fox understand that spreading misinformation about reasonable climate policies like the Paris agreement allows them to poison the well for more ambitious and much-needed climate proposals, especially when the other cable news networks fail to consistently contextualize the climate threats these policies were developed to address.
How Fox News covered the United States’ reentry into the Paris accord
Fox has covered the United States’ reentry into the agreement significantly more than its competitors. From January 20-25, Fox aired 16 segments about the Paris accord, while MSNBC aired four, and CNN aired two. Rather than contextualizing the efficacy of the agreement to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius to prevent the worst consequences of climate change, the Fox segments were filled with misleading claims that the agreement will harm the U.S. economy, unfairly benefit China, and won’t actually mitigate the climate crisis, among other misinformation.
This campaign to deceive viewers and toxify reasonable climate policy mirrors the network’s unrelenting attacks on the Green New Deal. Since the ambitious proposal was announced nearly two years ago, Fox News has been propagating the same misinformation about it, repeatedly anchoring the Green New Deal to radical socialism and economic devastation. Fox’s campaign has been so successful that the pro-fossil fuel right-wing now labels “virtually every climate change effort as part of the Green New Deal.”
Fox’s campaign of disinformation, bad-faith arguments, and climate denial continued during the Biden transition, which featured segments blaming proposals like the Green New Deal for some Democrats’ disappointing down-ballot performance, demonizing the Paris climate accord, and labeling Biden’s moderate climate plan as too expensive. As the new president fulfills his commitment to rejoin the agreement, Fox News is again ramping up its efforts to derail any and all efforts at taking even the smallest steps necessary to stave off climate catastrophe.
Denial of climate reality, not good-faith arguments, underpin right-wing attacks on the Paris accord
According to climate scientists, the window to take meaningful climate action is rapidly closing. Still, many take an optimistic but clear-eyed approach to the Paris agreement, especially because none of the major industrialized nations are on track to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target set by the accords for limiting global temperature rise from pre-industrial levels. These good-faith critiques, arguing that the Paris agreement is a starting point but much more needs to be done, are not being advanced on Fox News. Rather, Fox is a key cog in the right-wing disinformation network and it has committed to propping up a deadly and dying fossil fuel industry by eroding public demand for climate action. The network’s lies about the Paris accord, like its false claims about the Green New Deal, are all designed to advance this goal.
Here is a noncomprehensive look at some of Fox’s biggest lies about the Paris agreement, debunked:
False: The Paris accord will harm the American economy
The most prevalent talking point on Fox regarding the Paris accord is that it will harm the American economy by killing jobs. These claims are driven by a fossil fuel industry that is in decline, and they fail to take into account the growth in the clean energy sector.
Longtime Fox guest and climate denier Marc Morano appeared on the January 21 episode of Fox & Friends First to advance this dubious argument, claiming that rejoining the Paris agreement is “climate virtue signaling” that will “hammer middle America, blue-collar America, [and] Americans on middle class and lower income.”
In reality, Americans could reap myriad economic benefits from implementation of the Paris agreement. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, “Clean energy — a global market worth $1.4 trillion in 2016 alone — is a threat to oil and gas. ... So giving up on the U.S. commitment to further develop our share of the clean energy market — a share that currently totals about $200 billion — is the opposite of an economically savvy decision.” Coupled with a Just Transition for fossil fuel workers, the green energy economy could provide Americans with millions of high-wage jobs.
False: The Paris accord privileges China over America
Fox News also pushed the idea that the Paris agreement benefits China while putting the United States at a disadvantage because China has no enforceable commitment to the agreement.
This argument was advanced by discredited conservative economist Art Laffer during the January 21 episode of America’s Newsroom, saying, “If the climate is such a big deal, everyone should do their share for climate … but obviously politics has come in to play a role in the Paris accord.” Co-anchor Dana Perino even suggested Biden’s move to rejoin the agreement was merely “symbolic.”
China is the world’s hungriest consumer of energy worldwide — demanding the energetic equivalent of almost 3.3 billion tonnes of oil last year. Since 2011, it has burnt more coal than all other countries combined. And its reliance on this fossil fuel adds up: China emits around one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases, the largest share of any country.
But these figures are only part of the story: China is also the world’s most prolific producer of wind energy, with the capacity to make more than twice as much as the second-largest generator, the United States. And it has about one-third of the world’s solar-generation capacity, building more systems last year than any other country.
Far from being a disadvantage, rejoining the Paris accord helps reestablish the United States as a leader on climate action and a driver of renewable development and technology.
False: Paris Climate Accords won’t help mitigate the climate crisis
Fox News has also claimed that the Paris agreement will not actually help mitigate climate change. But Fox isn’t complaining that the framework isn’t ambitious enough; it is more concerned with downplaying the threat of the climate crisis.
Danish political scientist Bjorn Lomborg, who has a long history of "being spectacularly wrong about climate change," was invited on the January 21 episode of Fox & Friends to claim that rejoining the Paris agreement will “cost a fortune and cut almost nothing, so basically achieve almost nothing to fix climate change,” before downplaying both the severity of future climate impacts and the recent hurricane season.
But as Grist noted in a recent article, “without the U.S. on board, the central goal of the agreement — to prevent dangerous levels of global warming — would be virtually impossible.” Ultimately, the world has a much better chance of meeting Paris’ emission goals with the United States as a partner than not. As the author Shannon Osaka succinctly summarized:
Rejoining the agreement, however, is just the first step. To fulfill its obligations under the pact, the Biden administration will have to quickly throw together a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions before the next U.N. climate meeting, scheduled for December in Glasgow. Other countries will expect the U.S. to come with a goal to slash CO2 emissions by 45 to 50 percent by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels) and get overall emissions to zero by the middle of the century. And it won’t be enough for the United States just to set those targets. Biden will also have to show the country can reach them — and that it can be counted on not to back out for a second time.
Fox’s false climate narratives must be challenged: Will other cable news outlets step up?
Unfortunately, Fox’s coverage of the Paris agreement is worsened by the lack of climate coverage from other cable outlets. The network regularly outperforms its counterparts on coverage of issues related to climate and energy, and it aired more than twice as many total segments about the Paris agreement during the studied time period as CNN and MSNBC combined.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, the network spent an entire month lying about Biden's climate plan -- from July 14 to August 14, Fox broadcast seven times the coverage of Biden’s proposal that CNN aired and four times the coverage that aired on MSNBC. These unhinged and misleading attacks included the false narrative that Biden would ban fracking if elected.
To counter the dishonest Fox propaganda campaign aimed at eroding broad public support for climate policies such as the Paris accord and poisoning the well for any and all climate action, other cable news outlets must commit to informing their audiences about the climate crisis and the proposed solutions that exist to mitigate its worst consequences.
One of the most notable non-Fox segments during the studied time period aired on the January 22 episode of MSNBC Live with Katy Tur, which hosted climate activist Greta Thunberg and climate scientist Michael Mann to discuss reentry into the Paris accord, among other tenets of Biden’s climate policy. It was a thoughtful and wide-ranging discussion that was an honest attempt to contextualize the benefits of the Paris agreement while recognizing the need for more ambitious action.
But segments like this air far too rarely on cable TV news. CNN Newsroom with Pamela Brown also aired a strong segment on its January 24 episode, which featured CNN’s chief climate correspondent Bill Weir explaining the purpose of the agreement and the urgency of the climate crisis.
These are substantive segments that demonstrate these networks’ ability to fill the vacuum where Fox News’ climate misinformation thrives. To be most informative to their audience, these types of segments must air more often and during morning and prime-time hours when most viewers are watching.
Rejoining the Paris accord is only the first step toward confronting the real, immediate, and accelerating climate emergency
There is growing scientific consensus that the climate crisis is escalating and, absent transformative change, “could render a significant portion of the Earth uninhabitable consequent to continued high emissions, self-reinforcing climate feedback loops and looming tipping points.” According to signatories of a document titled “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency”:
The climate emergency has arrived and is accelerating more rapidly than most scientists anticipated, and many of them are deeply concerned. The adverse effects of climate change are much more severe than expected, and now threaten both the biosphere and humanity. There is mounting evidence linking increases in extreme weather frequency and intensity to climate change.
Last year, the U.S. experienced a record 22 disasters with damages exceeding $1 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In addition to the 262 lives loss, the damages from these catastrophes totaled $95 billion in 2020 alone. And extreme weather events have taken a devastating toll on the lives and livelihoods of Americans across the country for decades now. As NOAA noted: “Since 1980, the U.S. has sustained 285 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters that have exceeded $1.875 trillion in total damages to date.”
2020 was also the hottest year ever recorded, edging out 2016 by a narrow margin. According to The Guardian, “The world’s seven hottest years on record have now all occurred since 2014, with the 10 warmest all taking place in the last 15 years. There have now been 44 consecutive years where global temperatures have been above the 20th-century average.”
Fox's dismissive coverage of legitimate climate actions is particularly damaging as the network continues to deny the very real crisis these solutions are intended to address.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC for either of the terms “climate” or “accord” within close proximity of the term “Paris” from January 20 through January 25, 2021.
We included segments, which we defined as instances when the Paris accord was the stated topic of discussion or when a back-and-forth about the Paris climate accord transpired between two or more speakers.