On Thursday, President Donald Trump announced that he would begin pulling the US out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. The accord, signed by all but two countries, aims to keep the world from warming by more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, a threshold that scientists say could save the planet from the worst-case scenarios of climate change.
During a White House news conference, Trump outlined his reasons for leaving the agreement. Many of them, however, were based on questionable data. Here are some of Trump’s main arguments for exiting the pact – and what the numbers say about them.
Trump suggested that US compliance with the Paris accord could “cost America as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025, according to the National Economic Research Associates.”
The report on which that claim is based has been widely criticised by environmental groups. As the World Resources Institute pointed out, the NERA study uses a scenario in which the US industrial sector is forced to reduce the country’s overall emissions by nearly 40% in 20 years. That calculation doesn’t take into account the role of other sectors in reducing emissions.
The WRI also faults the NERA report for assuming a low rate of clean-energy innovation. That rate was calculated by the Department of Energy as a minimal case that “may underestimate advances.” What’s more likely, the National Resources Defence Council suggests, is that the development of clean energy technologies will accelerate. Even since 2016, solar costs have decreased by about 8%.
Today, solar jobs vastly outnumber those in coal, and those numbers continue to grow – a recent report from the International Renewably Energy Agency estimated that employment in the solar industry expanded 17 times as fast as the US economy overall in 2016.
Just a tiny temperature decrease
Trump also suggested that the Paris Agreement would lead to only a minuscule reduction in global temperature.
“Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree – think of that, this much – Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100,” he said. “Tiny, tiny amount.”
A detailed analysis of the impact of the Paris goals by Climate Interactive suggests those numbers are off.
The global temperature will rise – there is no scenario in which there will be an overall reduction. But let’s assume that Trump meant a reduction from the projections of temperature increases that would happen without the Paris Agreement.
Under a “business as usual” scenario in which past trends continue, the expected temperature increase in 2100 is 4.2 degrees Celsius (7.6 degrees Fahrenheit). If all nations fully achieve their Paris pledges, however, the average global surface temperature in 2100 is expected to be 3.3 degrees. That means the accord would lead to a reduction of nine-tenths of one degree, not two.
Nine-tenths of a degree on a global scale is huge. Since the industrial revolution, global temperatures on average have risen 0.99 degrees Celsius, according to NASA. That’s not so far from.90, and we’re already seeing plenty of dramatic changes around the planet. Even a reduction of two-tenths of a degree would not be “tiny” – it would be 20% of the increase we’ve already seen.
Trump went on: “In fact,” he said, “14 days of carbon emissions from China alone would wipe out the gains from America – and this is an incredible statistic – would totally wipe out the gains from America’s expected reductions in the year 2030.”
That claim also does not appear to be accurate. With the US abandoning its commitments, Climate Interactive calculates that by 2025, the country would emit 6.7 gigatons of CO2 a year instead of the 5.3 gigatons of CO2 a year that the US would emit under the agreement.
As of 2013, China emitted 9.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide a year – which comes out to 0.025 gigatons a day. Fourteen days’ worth would be 0.35 gigatons – far less than the annual US decrease.
A negative economic impact on the US
In his speech, Trump suggested that remaining in the agreement would cost the US economy “close to $US3 trillion in lost GDP and 6.5 million industrial jobs, while households would have $US7,000 less income, and in many cases, much worse than that.”
Trump didn’t cite a source for that statistic, but he suggested in a speech on April 29 that the cost would be $US2.5 trillion – and the nonpartisan website Factcheck.org looked into that claim.
White House spokesman Steven Cheung told Factcheck.org that the number came from a report published by the conservative Heritage Foundation in April 2016.
Factcheck.org ran Heritage’s analysis by Roberton C. Williams III, a resource economist at the University of Maryland who is a senior fellow at the economic-analysis nonprofit Resources for the Future. Williams said the Heritage estimate was correct based on the methodology the foundation used – the analysts estimated a carbon tax rate of $US36, which would increase by 3% each year from 2015 to 2035. With those numbers, the US gross domestic product would take a hit of 0.55% annually through 2035.
But according to calculations done by Resources of the Future, the US could reach its Paris goals with a much lower carbon tax rate over less time (either a constant rate of $US21.22 a year until 2025 or a rate that starts at $US16.87 and increases by 3% each year in the same period). By those numbers, the US GDP would be negatively affected by about 0.10% to 0.35% a year from now until 2025.
Blackouts and brownouts
By adhering to the goals set in the Paris accord, Trump said, “our country will be at grave risk of brownouts and blackouts.” The statement seems to imply that the US needs to use whichever energy sources it can (namely fossil fuels) to keep up with demand for electricity.
This is incorrect. Inclement weather (such as solar and atmospheric storms), animals, falling trees, failing equipment, earthquakes, digging, and lightning most often cause dips or losses in power. High energy demand is also a common cause, though this typically happens only during hot summer days, and it’s not from a lack of adequate power.
The root cause is when excess heat – both from heavy electrical loads and a heat wave itself – overburdens, melts, or otherwise damages equipment like electrical transformers and power lines.
Trump also downplayed the significance of rising global temperatures, which is likely to increase overall demand to power grids through increased use of air conditioning. His administration initially froze new energy-efficiency standards from going into effect, which would have exacerbated demand, though it later reversed course (after a coalition of US states sued the administration).
Trump’s latest budget – if enacted – would make deep cuts to smart grid, power-grid operations, and other research that could improve the reliability, efficiency, and cost of US energy infrastructure.
“Billions and billions and billions of dollars”
In addition to the impacts Trump suggested the Paris Agreement would have on the US economy, he also suggested that participation would require the US to pay a significant sum to the Green Climate Fund that was set up by the accord.
“So we’re going to be paying billions and billions and billions of dollars and we’re already way ahead of anybody else,” he said. “Many of the other countries haven’t spent anything. And many of them will never pay one dime.”
The US committed to contribute $US3 billion to the fund. That number is indeed higher than any other country, so Trump’s statement here isn’t entirely wrong.
But the US is also responsible for approximately one-third of the carbon dioxide that has been emitted, which makes the fact that the country is pledging a larger sum of money a bit more logical. Plus, the US contribution is far from the largest per capita – Luxembourg pledged to pay $US93.60 per capita, and Sweden pledged $US60.54 per capita, compared with $US9.30 per capita from the US.
The US already gave $US1 billion of its pledged amount. In his speech, Trump promised that withdrawing from the agreement would mean the US wouldn’t put any more money into the fund.
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