Media Should Scrutinize Trump’s Fact-Free Claim That China Will Violate Paris Climate Agreement

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee and climate science denier Donald Trump told Reuters that if elected, he would renegotiate the historic Paris climate change agreement -- if not scrap it altogether -- because “China doesn’t adhere to it, and China’s spewing into the atmosphere." But media outlets should think twice before repeating Trump’s claims about China, which experts say is already well on its way toward meeting its obligations under the Paris agreement thanks to major investments in clean energy and energy efficiency.

Trump Said He Would Renegotiate Paris Climate Agreement Because He Believes China Will Violate It

Trump: “I Will Be Renegotiating” Paris Climate Agreement “At A Minimum” Because “China Doesn’t Adhere To It.” On May 17, Trump said that if elected president, he “will be renegotiating” the Paris climate change agreement “at a minimum,” because it is “one-sided” and “bad for the United States.” Trump added that he is not a “big fan” of the agreement because “other countries don’t adhere to it, and China doesn’t adhere to it, and China’s spewing into the atmosphere." From Trump’s May 17 interview with Reuters:

Republican presidential contender Donald Trump said on Tuesday he would renegotiate America’s role in the U.N. global climate accord, spelling potential doom for an agreement many view as a last chance to turn the tide on global warming.


“I will be looking at that very, very seriously, and at a minimum I will be renegotiating those agreements, at a minimum. And at a maximum I may do something else,” the New York real estate mogul said in an interview with Reuters.

“But those agreements are one-sided agreements and they are bad for the United States.”

Trump said he did not believe China, the world’s top emitter of the carbon dioxide gas that many scientists believe is contributing to global climate change, would adhere to its pledge under the Paris deal.

“Not a big fan because other countries don’t adhere to it, and China doesn’t adhere to it, and China’s spewing into the atmosphere,” he said. [Reuters, 5/18/16]

Contrary To Trump’s Claim, Experts Say China Is Well On Its Way Toward Meeting Climate Change Commitments

Under Paris Agreement, China Pledged To Peak Carbon Emissions By 2030. China’s climate change commitments under the Paris agreement are included in what's known as its “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDC) to the United Nations. As the World Resources Institute has noted, China’s INDC pledged to accomplish the following by 2030:

• To achieve the peaking of carbon dioxide emissions around 2030 and making best efforts to peak early;

• To lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60% to 65% from the 2005 level;

• To increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20%; and

• To increase the forest stock volume by around 4.5 billion cubic meters on the 2005 level.

Moreover, China will continue to proactively adapt to climate change by enhancing mechanisms and capacities to effectively defend against climate change risks in key areas such as agriculture, forestry and water resources, as well as in cities, coastal and ecologically vulnerable areas and to progressively strengthen early warning and emergency response systems and disaster prevention and reduction mechanisms.

China signed on to the Paris agreement on April 22, and has promised to formally adopt it by September, as Reuters reported. [World Resources Institute, accessed 5/18/16; Reuters, 4/22/16]

Mother Jones: Experts Say “China Could Actually Be On Track To Outperform The Climate Targets It Agreed To In Paris.” In an article for Mother Jones, Climate Desk associate producer Tim McDonnell wrote that “Trump's criticism of China, although commonplace among Republican climate change deniers, is debatable.” McDonnell noted that “Chinese investment in clean energy technology vastly outpaces that of the US,” and that “some energy analysts think China could actually be on track to outperform” its commitments under the Paris agreement. McDonnell linked to another Mother Jones article, which reported that a March study -- by the U.K.-based Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics -- found that Chinese emissions will peak no later than 2025, “years ahead of China's official 2030 goal.” [Mother Jones, 5/17/16; Mother Jones, 3/7/16]

New York Times: “Many Experts” Say China Is On Track To Meet Its 2030 Target For Peak Emissions. The New York Times reported in April: “China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has pledged to have its emissions of carbon dioxide reach a plateau or decline ‘around 2030,’ and many experts believe it is on track to meet that target.” [New York Times, 4/21/16]

Natural Resources Defense Council Expert: “China Is On Track To Meet Or Even Exceed” Carbon Intensity Pledge It Made At 2009 Copenhagen Conference. Barbara Finamore, founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) China program, noted that China is “on track to meet or even exceed” the pledge it made at the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, “which was to reduce its carbon intensity by 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2020.” Finamore also stated that China is “responsible for over half of the world's energy conservation efforts over the past two decades,” and added: “China has also installed 40 percent of the world's newly added renewable energy power over the past five years, while the country's investment in clean and renewable energy exceeded the combined total invested by the U.S. and Europe.” [NRDC, 12/12/15; NRDC, accessed 5/18/16]

Climate Nexus: “China Is Producing Less Carbon Dioxide As It Consumes Less Energy And Uses More Renewable Energy.” In a comprehensive overview of “China's Climate and Energy Policy,” Climate Nexus noted that “China is the world’s leading producer of renewable energy, and also leads the world in clean energy investment.” The article further explained that China “installed more new non-fossil fuel capacity than fossil fuel capacity” in both 2013 and 2014, and that the country’s “share of investment in renewables (as a proportion of all energy investments) has increased steadily, from 32 percent of the total in 2007 to approximately 59 percent in 2013.” Climate Nexus also pointed out that China has experienced “a dramatic decrease in carbon intensity from 8.5 tons CO2 per 10,000 yuan of GDP in 1980, to 2.59 tons CO2 per 10,000 yuan in 2009—a 70 percent reduction.” It added that China has reduced its coal use since 2013, which “indicates that China’s target peak date is achievable.” [Climate Nexus, accessed 5/18/16]

Brookings Institution Expert: China Showing “Remarkable Level Of Commitment” To Tackling Climate Change. In an article published by China Daily and the Brookings Institution, Brookings-Tsinghua Center director Qi Ye and Tsinghua University visiting scholar Tong Wu wrote that “China has been leading the world in clean-energy investment” since the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference, “and now contributes 30 percent of the world's share of clean-energy finance.” The authors noted that China “doubled its contribution to the South-South Climate Cooperation Fund” in 2015 and that “recently it pledged 20 billion yuan ($3.1 billion; 2.9 billion euros) to further low-carbon initiatives in developing countries.” They added: “For a country in which per-capita GDP is still a fraction of the US level, this shows a remarkable level of commitment to solving a global problem.” [Brookings, 12/4/15]

NRDC Experts: China Is “Self-Motivated” To Take Climate Action As Means Of Reducing Air Pollution. NRDC China program experts Alvin Lin and Barbara Finamore wrote that China, which suffers from severe air pollution, is “self-motivated to cap its fossil fuel consumption and switch to cleaner energy in order to clean up its air and to ensure that the government is living up to citizens' expectations.” Lin and Finamore also pointed out that under the Paris Agreement, “countries will revisit, review and strengthen their greenhouse gas emission reduction targets every 5 years,” and they “will also report on their progress in meeting their climate commitments.” [NRDC, 12/12/15]

Trump Has Long History Of Denying Climate Science

Trump Previously Claimed Global Warming Is A Hoax “Created By And For The Chinese.” In a November 2012 tweet, Trump rejected the findings of 97 percent of climate scientists and denied the existence of climate change by declaring: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” In January, PolitFact noted that “Trump has repeatedly called climate change a ‘hoax’ in speeches, tweets and media appearances, and while he hasn’t necessarily repeated the charge that China ‘invented’ climate change, he has said as recently as Jan. 18, 2016, that action on climate change ‘is done for the benefit of China.’" [Donald Trump tweet, 11/6/12; PolitiFact, 1/24/16; Media Matters, 7/1/15]