Here’s why media should steer clear of Trump’s bogus Paris agreement talking points
Research ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER & CRAIG HARRINGTON
President Donald Trump defended his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement with bogus and easily discredited talking points that have long been touted by right-wing media. Outlets covering Trump’s decision to shirk American climate commitments should avoid repeating the White House’s misinformation.
Trump announces U.S. withdrawal from Paris agreement
NY Times: Trump announces plan to withdraw from Paris climate agreement. During a speech in the White House Rose Garden yesterday, President Donald Trump delivered his long-anticipated announcement that he would withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, in which 195 countries pledged to curb their greenhouse gas emissions. According to The New York Times, the decision signified “weakening efforts to combat global warming” on the part of the U.S. and revealed Trump to be “embracing isolationist voices in the White House” like senior adviser Steve Bannon:
In a speech from the Rose Garden, Mr. Trump said the landmark 2015 pact imposed wildly unfair environmental standards on American businesses and workers. He vowed to stand with the people of the United States against what he called a “draconian” international deal.
Mr. Trump’s decision to abandon the agreement for environmental action signed by 195 nations is a remarkable rebuke to heads of state, climate activists, corporate executives and members of the president’s own staff, who all failed to change his mind with an intense, last-minute lobbying blitz. The Paris agreement was intended to bind the world community into battling rising temperatures in concert, and the departure of the Earth’s second-largest polluter is a major blow. [The New York Times, 6/1/17]
Trump’s reasoning for withdrawal came from right-wing media
In his speech announcing the decision and in talking points provided to the press, the White House outlined its reasoning for withdrawing from the agreement -- including misinformation that appeared to have come directly from right-wing media. The outlets that have promoted these talking points include The Washington Times, Newsmax, Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, Fox Business’ Varney & Co., Infowars, The Laura Ingraham Show, The Mike Slater Show, and the National Review, among others. [The Washington Times, 3/28/17; Newsmax, 4/24/17; Fox News, America's Newsroom, 3/31/15; Fox Business, Varney & Company, 3/31/15; Infowars, 1/17/17; The Laura Ingraham Show, 5/31/17; The Mike Slater Show, 5/31/17; National Review, 12/14/15]
Bogus talking point #1
Trump Claim: Paris agreement “UNDERMINES U.S. Competitiveness and Jobs.” From Trump’s talking points:
- According to a study by NERA Consulting, meeting the Obama Administration’s requirements in the Paris Accord would cost the U.S. economy nearly $3 trillion over the next several decades.
- By 2040, our economy would lose 6.5 million industrial sector jobs – including 3.1 million manufacturing sector jobs [Politico, 6/1/17; NERA Economic Consulting, March 2017]
Why it’s bogus
The National Economic Research Associates’ study was commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which denies climate change and lobbies against environmental protections. A 2016 Senate report found that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was deeply involved in lobbying against initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions and curtail climate change against the wishes of many of its members. The chamber has been losing membership over its climate denial and opposition to solutions since at least 2009. [The New York Times, 6/14/16; Quartz, 4/24/17]
The Verge: NERA study contains unrealistic assumptions. The Verge cited Gary Yohe, a professor of economics and environmental studies at Wesleyan University, who explained that the NERA model on job losses is “unrealistically rigid” because it “assumes that businesses wouldn’t innovate to keep costs down in the face of new regulations — which isn’t how industry works.” PolitiFact noted that other experts believe the NERA study is designed on a model that “makes assumptions that generate an extreme result.” In response to Trump’s claim in his speech that the Paris agreement “could cost Americans as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025,” which was based on the NERA study, Yale economist Kenneth Gillingham argued, “It’s not something you can cite in a presidential speech with a straight face.” [The Verge, 6/1/17; PolitiFact, 6/1/17]
NERA study ignores benefits of taking action to address climate change. An analysis of NERA’s study by the Union of Concerned Scientists identified numerous methodological flaws, including the fact that the study ignores the costs of climate change and the climate, economic, and health benefits of actions to fight climate change. A November 2015 study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) projected that global gross domestic product (GDP) would be 1.0 to 3.3 percent less per year by 2060 if no changes are made to address climate change. And the Brookings Institution found that “unmitigated, climate change could reduce global GDP by over 20 percent by 2100 – a number roughly 5-10 times larger than current estimates.” According to a fact-check of Trump’s speech from The Washington Post, the NERA study admits in a footnote that it makes no attempt to measure the possible economic and technological benefits of addressing climate change. [Union of Concerned Scientists, 3/28/17; OECD, November 2015; Brookings Institution, December 2015; The Washington Post, 6/1/17]
Other analyses find that transitioning to a clean energy economy in line with Paris obligations would fuel economic growth and stimulate job creation. A report published this year by the International Energy Agency and the International Renewable Energy Agency found that transforming the global energy system to line up with the goals of the Paris agreement “can fuel economic growth and create new employment opportunities” in energy and other sectors:
The energy transition can fuel economic growth and create new employment opportunities.
Global GDP will be boosted around 0.8% in 2050 (USD 1.6 trillion). The cumulative gain through increased GDP from now to 2050 will amount to USD 19 trillion. Increased economic growth is driven by the investment stimulus and by enhanced pro-growth policies, in particular the use of carbon pricing and recycling of proceeds to lower income taxes. In a worst-case scenario (full crowding out of capital), GDP impacts are smalller (sic) but still positive (0.6%) since the effect of pro-growth policies remains favourable. Important structural economic changes will take place. While fossil fuel industries will incur the largest reductions in sectoral output, those related to capital goods, services and bioenergy will experience the highest increases. The energy sector (including energy efficiency) will create around six million additional jobs in 2050. Job losses in fossil fuel industry would be fully offset by new jobs in renewables, with more jobs being created by energy efficiency activities. The overall GDP improvement will induce further job creation in other economic sectors. [International Renewable Energy Agency, March 2017]
Bogus talking point #2
Trump Claim: “The deal was negotiated BADLY, and extracts meaningless commitments from the world’s top polluters.” From Trump’s talking points:
- The Obama-negotiated Accord imposes unrealistic targets on the U.S. for reducing our carbon emissions, while giving countries like China a free pass for years to come.
- Under the Accord, China will actually increase emissions until 2030 [Politico, 6/1/17]
Why it’s bogus
Wash. Post: The Paris agreement does not impose targets on any countries. As another fact-checking piece from The Washington Post points out, "the agreement does not bind any nation to any emissions target." Nations voluntarily set their own targets and there are no enforcement mechanisms if they fail to meet them. "Paris already gives countries tremendous flexibility, and no penalties," Michael Gerrard, a professor of environmental law at Columbia and director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told the Post. [The Washington Post, 6/2/17]
China is on pace to meet its Paris pledges well ahead of schedule. The Washington Post recently reported that an analysis conducted by the Climate Action Tracker found that “China and India are on track to overachieve on their climate pledges” and quoted Bill Hare, CEO of the nonprofit science and policy institute Climate Analytics, saying that China and India “are going to slow the global growth in CO2 emissions significantly.” A New York Times editorial discussing the same analysis noted, “The shift from fossil fuels has ... been much faster and more pronounced than most experts expected. China has reduced coal use for three years in a row and recently scrapped plans to build more than 100 coal power plants.” The Washington Post also reported that “experts now predict that China’s carbon emissions will peak, and then begin to decline, significantly earlier than the country’s 2030 target, and the country is investing more in renewable energy than any other nation in the world, pledging a further $360 billion by 2020.” [The Washington Post, 5/15/17, 6/1/17; The New York Times, 5/22/17]
Wash. Post Fact Checker: China must take action now to meet its Paris goals. In response to misinformation being spread by Scott Pruitt, the Trump-appointed administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog assigned “Four Pinocchios” to the claim that China is under no obligation to reduce its emissions until 2030. Kessler wrote, “China and India ... have made commitments that are supposed to be fulfilled by 2030, meaning they have to take action now in order to meet those goals.” [The Washington Post, 4/14/17]
Bogus talking point #3
Trump Claim: “The U.S. is ALREADY a Clean Energy and Oil & Gas Energy Leader; we can reduce our emissions and continue to produce American energy without the Paris Accord.” From Trump’s talking points:
- America has already reduced its carbon-dioxide emissions dramatically.
- Since 2006, CO2 emissions have declined by 12 percent, and are expected to continue to decline. [Politico, 6/1/17]
Why it’s bogus
Trump’s climate policies would significantly increase carbon dioxide emissions. Scientific American reported that a detailed analysis of Trump’s proposed environmental policy changes and regulatory rollbacks found that they “would create 1.8 gigatonnes more CO2 in 2030 than the past administration had envisioned—about 31 percent of 2005 U.S. emissions. ‘This amounts to a very significant reversal of the downward trajectory that U.S. emissions have been on,’ explains Bill Hare, one of the report authors and CEO of Climate Analytics, a nonprofit climate science and policy institute. ‘Under Trump's policies the U.S. will fall far short of its Paris climate goals.’” [Scientific American, 5/31/17]
Much of the decline in emissions in the past decade was due to the recession. In an article about Pruitt’s claim that America had reduced its emissions by 18 percent between 2000 and 2014, Kevin Drum of Mother Jones wrote, “Every time the economy goes into recession, carbon emissions decline. When the economy goes into a massive recession, carbon emission decline a lot. That explains most of the reduction, which happened between 2008 and 2012.” [Mother Jones, 6/1/17]
Reduced coal use was a major factor in emissions reductions, and Trump’s policies attempt to reverse that trend. According to an October 2016 article in Scientific American, recent CO2 emissions reductions, which were lower in the first half of 2016 than they had been since 1991, are “thanks mostly to less coal use at power plants.” Ironically, the emissions reductions witnessed in 2016 may have been partly the result of an unseasonably warm winter, which encouraged Americans to consume less energy. One of Trump’s rationales for withdrawing from the Paris accord is to revive the coal industry, which, if he actually achieved it, would result in even more emissions. [Scientific American, 10/13/16; Politico, 6/1/17]
American progress in reducing CO2 emissions might be a mirage. According to numerous studies performed by independent experts over the past decade, emissions reductions recorded in the United States might be overstated due to inadequate tracking of methane leakage, which has become an increasingly prevalent problem as energy companies shift from coal-fired power plants to supposedly cleaner burning natural gas. Gas drilling and transport infrastructure have been found to leak significant amounts of methane. [ProPublica, 1/25/11; PBS, Nova Next, 2/11/15; ThinkProgress, 2/17/16]
Bogus talking point #4
Trump Claim: “The deal also accomplishes LITTLE for the climate.” From Trump’s talking points:
- According to researchers at MIT, if all member nations met their obligations, the impact on the climate would be negligible. The impacts have been estimated to be likely to reduce global temperature rise by less than .2 degrees Celsius in 2100. [Politico, 6/1/17; MIT News, 4/22/16]
Why it’s bogus
MIT officials say Trump badly misrepresented their research. Reuters reported that researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) “said U.S. President Donald Trump badly misunderstood their research when he cited it on Thursday to justify withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.” From the article:
"We certainly do not support the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris agreement," said Erwan Monier, a lead researcher at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, and one of the study's authors.
"If we don't do anything, we might shoot over 5 degrees or more and that would be catastrophic," said John Reilly, the co-director of the program, adding that MIT's scientists had had no contact with the White House and were not offered a chance to explain their work. [Reuters, 6/2/17]
New York’s Jonathan Chait: “the MIT study does not produce the conclusion its gloating conservative publicists claim on its behalf.” In December 2015, New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait wrote that while the “entire right-wing media has eagerly circulated the finding” from MIT, the actual study “does not produce the conclusion its gloating conservative publicists claim on its behalf.” From the article:
Most analyses of the Paris agreement find that it would bring temperature increases somewhere in the range of halfway between business as usual and hitting the two-degree threshold.
The MIT study comes out right in the middle. So MIT’s conclusion of emissions levels over the next 15 years is right in line with other estimates that assume Paris will do a great deal to limit climate change.
So why does MIT find such a small difference? Because, unlike most studies, it assumes that after the current round of pledges is carried out, no further action will take place. Other studies assume that most countries will continue to transition to green energy sources. So, while the MIT study yields similar results to others over the next 15 years, it diverges dramatically over the 70 years that follow. That’s the main reason why it gets such a small effect by 2100. As John Reilly, an author of the MIT study, told me over email, “I don’t agree with the idea that this indicates failure.” It merely demonstrates that the pledges at Paris will have to be followed up with continued action. [New York, 12/20/15]
Studies show agreement based on countries' commitments can avert approximately one degree Celsius of warming. The nonprofit Climate Interactive projected that if all countries' current carbon reduction pledges are "fully implemented, with no further action," global temperatures will rise 3.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100, which is 1 degree less than the 4.5 degrees Celsius of projected warming that would occur under "business as usual." The Climate Action Tracker, a consortium of four research organizations, projected that the pledges submitted to the UN as of October 1, 2015, would limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100, assuming "a similar level of effort will be undertaken by countries post-2030 as applies in the period 2020-2030." That would be 0.9 degrees Celsius below the amount of warming that Climate Action Tracker projects to occur under current policies, and 1.4 to 2.1 degrees Celsius below the amount of warming the group predicts would occur in the absence of any global warming policies. In October, Bloomberg Business published a chart summarizing the range of projections, which also included the International Energy Agency's (IEA) projection that -- in Bloomberg's words -- "temperatures were likely to rise by 2.6 degrees Celsius by 2100, and by 3.5 degrees Celsius a century later":
Organizations project nations can build on Paris agreement to beat 2 degree Celsius target. The Paris agreement committed countries to addressing the "significant gap" between their current pledges and "aggregate emission pathways consistent with holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above preindustrial levels," while also "pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above preindustrial levels." The Climate Action Tracker found that the additional actions beyond Paris necessary to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius are "technically and economically feasible." And Climate Interactive, which noted that the agreement includes "the commitment to review national pledges every five years, starting in 2018," determined that global warming could be limited to 1.8 degrees Celsius "[i]f nations offer deeper, earlier emissions cuts at that time and continue progress." [UNFCCC.int, 12/12/15; ClimateActionTracker.org, accessed 12/3/15; Climate Interactive, 12/14/15]
Former UNFCCC exec. secretary: Paris agreement will "chart the course towards" 2 degree Celsius goal. Christiana Figueres, then the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told reporters in 2015, ahead of the negotiations in Paris, that the agreement is not intended to "miraculously solve climate change" or single-handedly limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, but instead is meant to "chart the course towards that long-term destination." [ThinkProgress, 9/4/15]