Fact check: Trump’s Paris Agreement withdrawal announcement
Date: 14 June 2017
Sources & further reading
Climate Action Tracker
The Conversation: Will the Paris Agreement still be able to deliver after the US withdrawal
Federal Ministry for the Environment fact check
Financial Times fact check
Scientific American fact-check
On June 1 2017, President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, leaning on many dubious claims to support his decision. Here is a thorough fact check of the speech.
Click on each claim to see the relevant quotes from the speech and our analysis.
“…the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, but begin negotiations to re-enter, either the Paris Accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers. So we're getting out. But we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that's fair. And if we can, that's great. And if we can't, that's fine.”
There is no political will to renegotiate the Paris Agreement and therefore the Agreement will not be renegotiated. This was immediately stated in reaction to President Trump’s speech in a statement given by France, Germany, and Italy.
The Secretariat of the UNFCCC released a clear Statement on the US Decision to Withdraw from the Paris Agreement on the same day as President Trump’s announcement:
“The Paris Agreement remains a historic treaty signed by 195 and ratified by 146 counties plus the European Union. Therefore it cannot be renegotiated based on the request of a single Party” (emphasis added).
At the meeting of G7 environment ministers in Bologna on 11-12 June, the ministers of non-US members of the G7 – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the UK, as well as the European Commissioners responsible for climate and the environment – reaffirmed their “strong commitment to the swift and effective implementation of the Paris Agreement”, stating that it is “irreversible and its full integrity is key for the security and prosperity of our planet, societies and economies”.
The EU Commissioner for the environment, Karmenu Vella, further emphasized this position in a press statement following the meeting: “Let me be very clear on the point of the irreversibility of the Paris Agreement: the European Union will not renegotiate the Paris Agreement. Now it is time for action, the world's priority is implementation.”
The Paris Agreement represents the first time in history that all countries of the world (apart from Syria and Nicaragua) have agreed to work together towards the common mitigation and adaptation goals outlined in the Agreement, without a rigid distinction drawn between developed and developing country participation. The US has demanded an agreement that is universal in its application across successive administrations since at least 2001. In order to secure such an agreement, most countries had to compromise on issues important to them in exchange for the larger prize of securing a collective agreement on a global challenge that can only be resolved via collective action. In international negotiations all countries expect to negotiate in good faith; if one country walks away from a hard fought agreement after others have made substantial concessions and compromises to accommodate that Party, the entire foundation of the multilateral negotiating process is undermined. For these reasons, there will be no will to renegotiate.
“I’m willing to immediately work with Democratic leaders to either negotiate our way back into Paris, under the terms that are fair to the United States and its workers, or to negotiate a new deal that protects our country and its taxpayers.”
The US cannot re-enter the Paris Agreement until after it has legally withdrawn from the Paris Agreement. The earliest withdrawal can take place is in November 2020. See Article 28 of the Paris Agreement.
“…as of today the United States will cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country. This includes ending the implementation of the nationally determined contribution and, very importantly, the Green Climate Fund, which is costing the United States a vast fortune.”
The United States remains a Party to the Paris Agreement until at least November 2020. Therefore, until that date, the US is bound under international law to comply with the Paris Agreement's obligations.
Regardless, because many obligations of the Paris Agreement (PA) simply echo or reinforce obligations already in place under the UNFCCC and its supporting decisions, the US will be implementing aspects of the PA simply by complying with its existing UNFCCC obligations. In a few examples:
1) The Paris Agreement requires all Parties, except for Least Developed Countries and small island developing States, to regularly provide a national GHG inventory report of emissions by sources and sinks, with 'regularly' understood as at least every two years (Art. 13.7; decision 1/CP.21, para. 90).
Under the UNFCCC, the United States is already required to provide inventory reports annually, by April 15 of each year (see decision 24/CP.19).
2) The Paris Agreement requires Parties to 'maintain' a nationally determined contribution (NDC) and to pursue domestic mitigation measures with the aim of achieving the objectives of its NDC. The US's NDC has already been submitted, it is maintained by the Secretariat and it expresses the US intent to achieve a 26-28% reduction relative to 2005 levels by 2025.
Under the UNFCCC, the US has already pledged to reduce its emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 in conformity with anticipated legislation, with an emissions pathway that would entail a 30% emission reduction by 2025. All UNFCCC Parties are required to formulate and implement measures to mitigate climate change by addressing anthropogenic emissions (Art. 4.1(b)). The US target and measures are equally relevant under the PA through 2020.
3) The Paris Agreement requires Parties to provide the information necessary to track progress made in implementing and achieving their NDCs; this information is subject to review.
Under the UNFCCC, the US is already required to report biennially on its progress toward achieving its 2020 target and to provide projections for 2030. This information is subject to a technical review. See decision 2/CP.17, Annexes I and II. The same information is equally relevant under the PA.
4) The Paris Agreement requires developed country Parties to "provide financial resources to assist developing countries with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention." (emphasis added)
Under the UNFCCC, the US is already required to provide support to developing countries to assist with their mitigation, adaptation and reporting needs.
“Compliance with the terms of the Paris Accord (…) could cost America as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025, according to the National Economic Research Associates. This includes 440,000 fewer manufacturing jobs (…), including automobile jobs and the further decimation of vital American industries on which countless communities rely. (…)
According to this same study, by 2040, compliance with the commitments put into place by the previous administration, would cut production for the following sectors: Paper – down 12%. Cement – down 23%. Iron and steel – down 38%. Coal – and I happen to love the coal miners – down 86%. Natural gas down 31%.”
“The cost to the economy at this time would be close to three trillion dollars in lost GDP and 6.5 million industrial jobs, while households would have $7,000 less income and, in many cases, much worse than that.”
Employment in the renewable-energy industry is growing rapidly in the United States (and around the world), and far exceeds that in coal mining. According to IRENA, in 2016 the solar and wind industries employed around 777,000 people in the US, and more than 8 million globally.
Trump’s promises to the coal-industry workforce cannot be met. By the end of 2015, the coal industry in the US had collapsed, with three of the four largest US miners filing for bankruptcy along with many other smaller companies. Coal mining employment has been on the decline for decades – from a peak of more than 800,000 in the 1920s to 130,000 in 2011. Coal use and mining is projected to continue declining because of changes in the energy markets, including lower natural-gas prices and overwhelming competition on price from renewables and storage. Recent research show that increased competition from cheap natural gas is responsible for 49 percent of the decline in domestic US coal consumption; lower-than-expected demand is responsible for 26 percent; and the growth in renewable energy is responsible for 18 percent.
Many other studies show the opposite of what is claimed by Trump– that climate policy can lead to an increase in growth and jobs. See for example the recently released OECD study for the G20, which found that G20 countries could benefit from a 5% boost to growth by 2050 if they pursue climate-resilient and low-carbon economic development. The New Economy Report, released in 2015, shows how such a combination of economic growth and reduced climate risks could be achieved.
More specifically for the US, scientists have looked at the cost to the US of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement and found that that by 2100 the US could be 5% poorer than it would have been had it stayed in the Agreement, with a total of over $8 trillion lost over the course of the century. These numbers are sensitive to assumptions made about future global mitigation (in this study it is pessimistically assumed that climate action freezes after 2030) and the types of cost included (the costs could be greater if e.g. the effects of poor air quality on health were included).
Nevertheless, it gives a ballpark figure that reveals the substantial cost to the US of inaction on climate change - a cost that would be even greater if other countries were to follow suit.
The benefits of climate policy extend beyond changes in GDP. The Low Carbon Monitor published by Climate Analytics outlines many of these benefits and opportunities from ambitious climate policy, including for growth, employment, health and energy security.
The Paris Agreement “punishes the United States, (…) world’s leader in environmental protection while imposing no meaningful obligations on the world’s leading polluters.”
Far from being unfair to the US, the Paris Agreement with a design principle promoted by the US, allows each country to put forward the effort it believes to be fair. The collective desire of countries to deal with the climate change problem, as reflected in the legally binding Paris Agreement, means that each country will look towards others to try to encourage all to put forward a ‘fair’ level of action.
Consistent with its “bottom-up” design, the Paris Agreement does not provide obligations or official guidance on the scale of necessary emissions reductions or ambition required from individual countries in contributing to progress towards agreed global goals under the Agreement. There are no internationally negotiated targets for individual countries under the Agreement as there are under the Kyoto Protocol. Rather, it is up to each country to decide domestically what emissions reduction target it will include in its NDC and what domestic policies and measures it will design and implement to achieve its chosen target. This is as true for the United States as it is for China, India and other countries.
President Trump did not acknowledge in his announcement that the US is also a "leading emitter". Of all the GHG emissions ever produced, the US has contributed the largest share, making the US is the single, largest cumulative emitter of GHGs. The US is currently second only to China in annual emissions.
In per capita terms, however, the average person in the US emits far more than someone in China or India: in recent years, emissions per capita in the US were 10 times as large as those in India, and well over double the per capita emissions in China. The difference in GDP per capita is similarly huge, with the US at ~10 and ~4 times the GDP per capita of India and China respectively in 2015.
Most of the obligations under the Paris Agreement apply to all Parties, including the world’s leading polluters such as China and India. This was one of the great achievements of Paris – that it delivered an agreement where all countries accepted they must contribute to global efforts to reduce emissions. The Agreement does not include any obligations that apply only to the United States.
For example, all Parties to the Paris Agreement (148 Parties at present) have agreed to pursue a 1.5 degree limit to global warming, and recognised the need to peak global emissions as soon as possible and to reduce them rapidly to zero emissions in the second half of this century. Each Party to the Agreement has also agreed to prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that they intend to achieve, to pursue domestic mitigation measures with the aim of achieving the objectives of their NDCs, and to bring forward successive NDCs every five years, representing a progression beyond their current NDC and reflecting their highest possible ambition.
“For example, under the agreement, China will be able to increase the emissions by a staggering number of years – 13. They can do whatever they want for 13 years. Not us. India makes its participation contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developed countries. There are many other examples but the bottom line is that the Paris Accord is very unfair at the highest level to the United States.”
China has pledged in its NDC to halt the growth in its carbon emissions by 2030, 13 years from now, leaving open as to precisely when in the period before 2030. In terms of implementation, China appears already to be close to peaking its emissions. In other words, China has already put in place measures that put it on track to beat its target date for peaking emissions by many years, according to the Climate Action Tracker.
India is also well ahead of schedule in meeting its Paris commitments, based on its own investments in renewable energy systems and is now promoting rapid development of electric vehicles. India has not sought to make these developments contingent on foreign aid.
“…while the current agreement effectively blocks the development of clean coal in America (…) China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So, we can’t build the plants, but they can, according to this agreement. India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020. Think of it. India can double its coal production. We’re supposed to get rid of ours. Even Europe is allowed to continue construction of coal plants.”
“In short, the agreement doesn’t eliminate coal jobs. It just transfers those jobs out of America and the United States and ships them to foreign countries. This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States.”
“We have among the most abundant energy reserves in the planet, sufficient to lift millions of America’s poorest workers out of poverty. Yet under this agreement, we are effectively putting these reserves under lock and key, taking away the great wealth of our nation. (…) The agreement is a massive redistribution of United States’ wealth to other countries.”
The Paris Agreement simply does not impose any limits on specific technologies. It does not prevent countries from extracting, marketing or using coal or other fossil fuels; nor does the Agreement “pick winners” with respect to specifying which low GHG emissions technologies countries should deploy.
Rather, the Agreement includes collective goals that all Parties have agreed to (e.g. to pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels). It is then up to each individual Party to outline in its NDC its promised contributions towards these goals and to pursue domestic mitigation measures aimed at achieving these contributions. As part of putting forward and implementing a NDC, each Party to the Agreement then has to make its own sovereign domestic decisions on which policies it will introduce for the purposes of implementing and achieving its NDC. Policies introduced by countries will contribute to outcomes in each country with respect to, for example, the building of new coal-fired power plants, closing down of existing power plants, and/or increased investment and deployment in renewables technologies (solar, wind etc.).
Implementation of the Paris Agreement will have to leave much of the coal and other fossil reserves untouched globally – not just in the US – see the report by Climate Analytics on implications of PA for coal globally, which concludes that under a least-cost approach, unabated coal would need to be phased-out globally around mid-century. This means that it is in the best interest of countries to rapidly reduce the role of coal in their electricity mixes to meet their NDCs in a cost-effective way, as emissions reductions in other sectors are comparably more expensive.
Many countries, including China and India, have realised the potential of coal phase-out as a cost-effective mitigation measure and are building fewer coal-fired power stations than planned while closing a rapidly increasing number of operating coal power plants. As of February 2017, 68 GW of coal power plants construction was frozen at over 100 project sites in China and India, and at the global level more construction was being frozen than entered in operation. Coal plant retirements are taking place at an unprecedented pace, with 64 GW of retirements in the past two years, mainly in the European Union and the United States. The Climate Action Tracker has shown that those recent developments in the coal sector have has a positive effect on the growth rate of global emissions.
“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. Tiny, tiny amount. In fact, 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”
This is an unrealistic estimate due to its assumption that efforts are frozen after 2030, as the Climate Action Tracker has already analysed in 2015 This figure is taken from a 2015 MIT report, according to which the Paris Agreement – based on pledges available by then – would “ shave an additional 0.2 degrees Celsius beyond existing treaties and obligations”.
The Climate Action Tracker assessment concludes that the full implementation of present NDCs already communicated under the Paris Agreement (including the US NDC) will keep temperatures down by 0.8°C: while the simple continuation of current policies would lead to 3.6°C of warming, full NDC implementation would see this reduced to 2.8°C.
However, the requirement that Parties communicate new or updated NDCs with improved ambition every five years provides an opportunity for future NDCs to be brought in line with the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement. The Agreement also builds in regular reporting and review processes designed to track progress towards global goals and achievement of individual countries’ goals outlined in NDCs. These processes are collectively aimed at seeing a collective increase in the level of ambition over time in order to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals.
“At 1 percent growth, renewable sources of energy can meet some of our domestic demand, but at 3 or 4 percent growth, which I expect, we need all forms of available American energy, or our country – (applause) – will be at grave risk of brownouts and blackouts”
Whilst such a high rate of economic growth seems unlikely, it would not necessarily hinder its adoption of clean and renewable energy technologies, electric vehicles and many of the other transformations needed to reach zero emissions. A higher economic growth rate implies high levels of investment all around, increasing productivity including energy productivity, which is linked to a cleaner energy system overall.
“A series of recent studies have found that the US grid could operate reliably with large amounts of renewable generation. A National Renewable Energy Laboratory study from last year concluded that the Eastern Interconnection could operate with 30 percent penetrations of wind and renewable generation. A 2016 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study found that the U.S. power sector could cut carbon emissions by 80 percent without increasing costs.”
“At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us, as a country? We want fair treatment for its citizens and we want fair treatment for our taxpayers. We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore. And they won’t be. They won’t be.”
The Paris Agreement allows each country to put forward the effort it believes to be fair. Even if the pledges presented by Parties are not met, the Paris Agreement is explicitly designed to be non-punitive – this was done in part to accommodate the US in the negotiations. While Article 15 of the Agreement establishes a mechanism to facilitate implementation and promote compliance, even this mechanism has deliberately been designed to function in a manner that is facilitative, constructive, non-confrontational, non-adversarial and non-punitive, to support implementation through a process that will avoid any formal embarrassment of countries that do not meet the level of mitigation effort they have set for themselves.
The Paris Agreement has been specifically designed to address and accommodate the sensitivities of the United States and other countries that do not wish to warrant, or are not in a position to warrant, that they will be able meet the NDCs they themselves have brought forward. The United States was active in the negotiating process in protecting its domestic interests and secured many concessions from other Parties as a result. It is for this reason that the announced intention of the United States now to withdraw from the Paris Agreement has opened up the United States for ridicule and criticism in many parts of the world. Any weakening of the United States is far more likely come from the political fall-out from announced withdrawal, than from participation in the processes established under the Paris Agreement.
“Beyond the severe energy restrictions inflicted by the Paris Accord, it includes yet another scheme to redistribute wealth out of the United States through the so-called Green Climate fund, nice name, which calls for developed countries to send one hundred billion dollars to developing countries, all on top of America’s existing and massive foreign aid payments. So we’re going to be paying billions and billions and billions of dollars and we’re already way ahead of anyone else. Many other countries haven’t spent anything. And many of them will never pay one dime.”
““The Green Fund would likely obligate the United States to commit potentially tens of billions of dollars, of which the United States has already handed over $1 billion. Nobody else is even close. Most of them haven’t even paid anything.”
“In 2015, the Green Climate Fund's executive director reportedly stated that estimated funding needed would increase to $450 billion per year after 2020. And nobody even knows where the money is going to. Nobody has been able to say, where is it going to?”
“Of course, the world's top polluters have no affirmative obligations under the Green Fund, which we terminated.”
The facts contradict President Trump’s claims. The few billion dollars that the US has committed to the GCF is far from being a “vast fortune”. The US so far has delivered one third of its US$3 billion pledge.
Former President Obama pledged $3 billion to the GCF, of which $1 billion was delivered. The US commitment was capped at 30 percent of the GCF’s total, with that share expected to decline over time as more countries kicked in.
Other major contributors such as France, Japan, Germany and the UK have pledged and signed important amounts (between USD 1 billion- USD 1.5 billion each) and of these Germany, Japan, and the UK have already delivered one-third to half of their pledges. The largest contributor per capita is Sweden that has already paid the total pledged amount.
Though there is no obligation of developing countries to contribute to the GCF, some have already pledged to the Fund and the Paris Agreement encourages developing countries to provide or continue to provide support voluntarily.
Developed countries committed in 2009 to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries. This financial support is to come from a wide variety of sources: public, private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance.
The USD 100 billion commitment was reaffirmed in Paris, where it was also agreed to set a new collective goal prior to 2025. The mobilisation of financial support will come not only from public budgetary contributions of developed countries, but also from other sources- and not all the USD 100 billion will flow through the GCF.
The GCF was formally established in 2010 to support developing countries in their transition to a climate resilient and low-carbon development pathway. The GCF that serves the Paris Agreement as one of the two Financial Mechanisms of the UNFCCC has received over US$10 billion in contributions from 43 countries and a number of regions and cities, including nine developing countries who themselves are highly affected by climate change impacts already occurring in their countries. Contributions are not compulsory – each country makes its own decision whether to contribute to the Fund and the level of any contribution.
The Executive Director of the GCF in her interview with Reuters in June 2015 said that “Estimates of total investment needs were about $450 billion a year from 2020, split between $350 billion to curb greenhouse gas emissions and $100 billion to adapt to changes such as more frequent downpours and heat waves.” This was stated in the context of how the amount pledged to the GCF (USD 10.3 billion) is not a large amount of money to address the needs of developing countries and this amount was for 4 years.
“Foreign leaders in Europe, Asia and across the world should not have more to say with respect to the U.S. economy than our own citizens and their elected representatives. Thus our withdrawal from the agreement represents a reassertion of America’s sovereignty.”
“And exiting the agreement protects the United States from future intrusions on the United States' sovereignty and massive future legal liability. Believe me, we have massive legal liability if we stay in.”
The US government participated fully in the negotiation of the Paris Agreement. The President, in his capacity as an elected representative of the United States, accepted the Paris Agreement. The great majority of international agreements in recent times have been enacted by executive action, rather than through Congressional ratification.
The US may be exposed to lawsuits for its actions or its failures to act, whether it remains in the Paris Agreement or exits the Paris Agreement. It can be recalled that Massachusetts v. EPA was brought by 12 US States and other petitioners, arguing that the EPA had a responsibility to regulate CO2 as a pollutant. The States were recognized as having standing to sue, due to injuries related to the impacts of CO2 emissions. In Juliana v. United States, 21 youth plaintiffs are suing the federal government for its actions in contributing to climate change, bringing constitutional claims for violations of the rights to life, liberty and property, as well as the failure to protect public trust resources. These sorts of lawsuits can be expected to continue.
“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
“It is time to exit the Paris Accord. And time to pursue a new deal that protects the environment, our companies, our citizens and our country. It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit, Mich.; and Pittsburgh, Pa.; along with many many other locations in our country, before Paris, France. It is time to make America great again.”
Following President Trump’s announcement, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto joined the Mayors for 100% Clean Energy coalition, stating “Pittsburgh will not only heed the guidelines of the Paris Agreement, we will work to move towards 100 per cent clean and renewable energy for our future, our economy, and our people.”
Detroit’s automotive companies Ford and General Motors quickly responded to President Trump’s decision, confirming their commitment to the environment and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The mayors of Pittsburgh and Paris wrote a joint article in the New York Times to highlight their continued support the Paris Agreement, stating that “the only way to do right by Pittsburghers and Parisians is to abide by the principles of the Paris Agreement, which guarantees the future health and prosperity of both of our cities — and every other city in the world”. They also joined hundreds of other mayors, governors, CEOs and university presidents by pledging “We Are Still In”.
289 US mayors said in a statement on 1st June that they would “adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement. We will intensify efforts to meet each of our cities’ current climate goals, push for new action to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, and work together to create a 21st century clean energy economy.”
From the NPR fact check:
“Allegheny County, which encompasses Pittsburgh, actually voted for Hillary Clinton in November — 56 percent to 40 percent. And the city itself voted for Clinton by about 80 percent, according to Mayor Bill Peduto. Trump did, however, swamp Clinton in the suburban counties surrounding Pittsburgh.”