President Trump faces humiliation July 7-8 when he attends the leaders’ summit for the Group of 20 nations in Hamburg, Germany, after Chancellor Angela Merkel promised to make the Paris Agreement on climate change a key agenda item.
President Trump announced in a rambling speech in the White House Rose Garden on June 1 that he was withdrawing the United States from the agreement, declaring: “We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore”.
But the truth is that the president’s bizarre and ludicrous statements about climate change policy are making him and his administration the subject of derision in Europe and other parts of the world. For instance, it was obvious that the president was relying on "alternative facts" when he attempted to itemise the Paris Agreement’s shortcomings.
Take his assertion that the U.S. has "massive legal liability if we stay in." This was allegedly based on advice from the White House legal counsel, Don McGahn, but it is wrong. The Paris Agreement is binding on the 150 countries that have so far ratified it, including the United States. But the agreement does not include the "nationally determined contributions" containing voluntary targets for each country to reduce their annual emissions of greenhouse gases.
Todd Stern, who led the U.S. government’s team that negotiated the agreement, has confirmed that the targets submitted by the Obama administration in March 2015 are not legally binding on the United States and can be ditched for less ambitious ones. Lawyers at the State Department have also advised the White House to the same effect, according to some media reports.
It was not just the legal implications of the agreement that President Trump misrepresented. He was also mistaken about its likely impacts on the economy. The president cited a report by NERA Economic Consulting as evidence that the agreement would cost the United States “$3 trillion in lost GDP and 6.5 million industrial jobs" by 2040.
But that study made absurd assumptions, including that the United States would be the only country that implemented its national commitments and that it could not create any new jobs from clean technologies, such as electric vehicles.
The NERA report is simply not credible. Neither is President Trump’s promise, repeated in recent speeches, that withdrawal from the Paris Agreement would revive the American coal industry, apparently based on the dogmatic ideology of lobby groups such as the Heritage Foundation.
Stephen Moore, the foundation’s distinguished visiting fellow, has the ear of the president, but is prone to daft outbursts about climate change policy. In an interview on CNN on June 8, Moore complained that he was “so sick of these sanctimonious Europeans” who have criticised President Trump’s rejection of the Paris Agreement but who, he claimed, had “never abided by” the Kyoto Protocol.
The protocol was signed in the late 1990s by 83 countries, including the United States. The 15 member states of the European Union pledged that their collective emissions in 2008-2012 would be 8-percent lower than in 1990. They actually achieved a reduction of 11.8 percent.
Furthermore, despite the Pollyanna picture painted by Moore and President Trump, the truth is that coal use in the United States is in long-term decline due to the availability of cheaper sources of power, such as natural gas and renewables.
Gary Cohn, the president’s chief economic adviser, has acknowledged this fact, and a robust recent study by Columbia University has laid out, clearly, the bleak future for coal, even if the United States withdraws from the Paris Agreement.
Coal supported about 160,000 jobs last year in the United States. This is much less than the 800,000 jobs in low-carbon energy, including renewables and nuclear power, and even less than the 200,000 Americans who are killed each year by local air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
It should also be remembered that a rigorous analysis by economists at the International Monetary Fund found that coal receives $200 billion every year in implicit subsidies in the United States because its price does not reflect the true costs its use causes through air pollution and climate change.
While the rest of the world is laughing at President Trump’s inability to distinguish between facts and fictions about climate change policy, there is rather more concern about his sustained assault on American climate scientists. The president has cut their research budgets, purged them from federal advisory roles and censored information about their work.
But other countries recognise the value of America’s world-class climate scientists, whose research informs policymaking around the globe. Those nations are attempting to protect them from the campaign of political persecution by President Trump and his administration.
President Emmanuel Macron has offered American climate scientists sanctuary in France, and 100 members of the British climate research community have written to Prime Minister Theresa May to ask her to speak up on behalf of their counterparts in the United States.
To demonstrate my personal solidarity with American researchers, I will be running the Carter Lake Rim Marathon in Oregon in August to raise money for the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund.
While President Trump’s bogus claims about climate change policy are likely to be mocked by other G-20 leaders, his war against America’s climate scientists will remain no laughing matter.
Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
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