Trump, Prioritizing Economy Over Climate, Cites Disputed Premises

Source: By MARK LANDLER, BRAD PLUMER and LINDA QIU, New York Times • Posted: Friday, June 2, 2017

A map showing climate anomalies during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Le Bourget, France, in 2015. Stephane Mahe/Reuters

WASHINGTON — In making his case for abandoning the Paris climate accord, President Trump characterized the agreement as an economic straitjacket — one that would impose terrible burdens on Americans by shuttering the coal industry, suffocating growth and redistributing jobs and wealth from the United States to its competitors.

One thing Mr. Trump did not do in the Rose Garden on Thursday afternoon was question the underlying science behind climate change. Indeed, the president suggested the 194-nation accord did not go far enough in stemming the rise in global temperatures because of greenhouse gas emissions.

But the president’s address — a mix of dry statistics and emotive language — was designed to discredit the pact, point by point. And several of Mr. Trump’s claims either relied on dubious data or distorted research reports.

Mr. Trump’s argument started with a faulty premise — that emissions reductions under the Paris agreement are compulsory — even though at one point he acknowledged they were voluntary.

“The United States,” he said, “will cease all implementation of the nonbinding Paris accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.”

The president referred to a published study to claim that the climate pact would result in “as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025,” of which 440,000 would be in manufacturing. By 2040, he said, the losses would balloon to 6.5 million industrial jobs, or $3 trillion in lost economic output, or about $7,000 in reduced income for the average household.

Critics dispute the methodology of that study, by the National Economic Research Associates. They note that it was conducted for the American Council for Capital Formation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — both vocal opponents of climate regulations.

Economists argue that the projected job losses in the study assume the American economy will not use innovation to adapt to the new regulations. Apple, Mars, and Unilever are among companies that have said complying with the Paris agreement would open markets and generate jobs.

A raft of studies — from environmental organizations, Citibank, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — argue that a failure to mitigate the effects of climate change could cost the economy trillions of dollars.

“China and Europe have become world leaders on the path toward green development already,” said Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, “and will strengthen their position if the U.S. slips back at the national level.”

To dramatize the unfairness of the agreement, Mr. Trump asserted that it allows China, the world’s largest polluter, “to increase these emissions by a staggering number of years — 13. They can do whatever they want for 13 years.”

Under China’s pledge, emissions would indeed continue to climb until 2030, and then begin declining. But as its consumption of coal slows, China is on pace to beat that target.

Its government has pledged to generate 20 percent of its energy from nonfossil fuel sources by 2030, a formidable goal that will require the Chinese to install at least 800 gigawatts worth of solar, wind and nuclear energy capacity — a process that is already underway.

Mr. Trump noted that the pact would allow China and India to build more coal plants, while effectively shutting down development of a clean coal industry in the United States.

“The agreement doesn’t eliminate coal jobs,” the president said. “It just transfers those jobs out of America and the United States, and ships them to foreign countries.”

Because the Paris accord is nonbinding, it has no direct effect on coal consumption in the United States. The coal industry is in long-term decline because of cheaper alternatives, such as natural gas and renewable energies, along with stricter pollution standards imposed by the Obama administration. Mr. Trump has moved to lift many of those restrictions, and he would be free to do so, even under the Paris agreement.

Mr. Trump’s top economic adviser, Gary D. Cohn, acknowledged the declining role played by coal in the nation’s energy mix. Speaking to reporters last week, he said, “Coal doesn’t even make that much sense anymore as a feedstock.”

Mr. Trump tried to diminish the value of the accord by citing a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study, which said that if each nation lived up to its commitments, it would result in a reduction of only two-tenths of a degree Celsius in global temperatures by 2100.

“Tiny, tiny amount,” he said, holding his thumb and index finger together to drive home the point.

But that assertion does not accurately reflect the M.I.T. research.

The M.I.T. study in question looked at the difference between climate pledges made at previous talks and those made in the run-up to Paris, and it found that the Paris pledges would avoid an additional 0.2 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2100.

But the M.I.T. researchers also looked at the difference between all of the climate pledges made to date and a business-as-usual scenario in which countries failed to act. In an updated 2016 analysis, they found that current climate pledges would result in global average temperatures rising between 2.7 and 3.6 degrees by the end of the century, compared with between 3.3 and 4.7 degrees if no action were taken, a difference of nearly a degree. And the aim of the Paris agreement was to improve those pledges over time.

Mr. Trump saved particular vitriol for the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations program under which richer countries transfer funds to poorer ones to help them mitigate the effects of climate change.

“Nice name,” he said, adding, “We’re going to be paying billions and billions and billions of dollars, and we’re already way ahead of anybody else. Many of the other countries haven’t spent anything, and many of them will never pay one dime.”

The United States has pledged $3 billion to the fund, which is the most of any country in aggregate terms. But it is far from the only contributor, and on a per-capita basis, it is not the highest. Sweden has contributed $581 million, which works out to a little less than $60 per person, six times the amount the United States is pledging per capita.

Even operating outside the Paris accord, Mr. Trump insisted that the United States would be an environmental exemplar. “We’ll be the cleanest,” he promised. “We’re going to have the cleanest air. We’re going to have the cleanest water.”

That optimistic statement is contradicted by Yale University’s latest annual Environmental Performance Index.

The United States ranked 26th of 180 countries, according to the index, which assesses each nation’s water and air quality, biodiversity, agricultural outputs and climate change efforts. It ranked 43rd in air quality, 22nd in water sanitation, and 44th in climate and energy policies.

Moreover, even after recent reductions, America’s carbon emissions per capita remain significantly higher than those of China or India — countries that Mr. Trump branded as the world’s big polluters.