Is the Paris climate accord unfair to the U.S.? Putting Trump’s claims in context

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    We return now to the president's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

    We want to take a closer look at some of the claims President Trump made during his remarks in the Rose Garden yesterday.

    William Brangham has that.


    As president, I can put no other consideration before the well-being of American citizens.


    In his announcement yesterday, President Trump gave several reasons why he thought the Paris accord was a bad idea.

    The main points the president made was that the Paris accord is unfair to the U.S., that it would hurt American workers, and that it won't really slow the pace of dangerous climate change.

    So, let's go through some of those claims. The first thing the president said was, we will get out of Paris, but maybe we will strike a better deal.


    Begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord, or a really entirely new transaction, on terms that are fair to the United States.


    But leaders from many of the other 195 nations in the deal said there was no appetite for renegotiation. French President Emmanuel Macron summed up the view of many.

  • PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON, France (through interpreter):

    He committed an error for the interests of his country, his people and a mistake for the future of our planet. We will not renegotiate a less ambitious accord. There is no way.


    President Trump also implied that the Paris accords are binding on the United States.

    But they're not. The entire accord relies on voluntary commitments, so many argue that, if the president wanted to stay in and wanted to change the U.S.' commitment, he's largely free to do so.

    Jason Grumet is the president of the Bipartisan Policy Center.

  • JASON GRUMET, President, Bipartisan Policy Center:

    What was unique about the Paris accord is that it was essentially a collection of 200 individual promises. Every country came forward and made a unique commitment.

    And each country has the capacity to reassert it own commitments. So, I think it's entirely reasonable for President Trump to say, I'm uncomfortable with this aspect of what the United States committed and, therefore, we're going to take a somewhat different approach. The U.S. would obviously have much more capacity to influence the choices, views and efforts of others if we were part of that conversation.


    Another one of the main complaints the president made: This will hurt U.S. jobs.


    Compliance with the terms of the Paris accord and the onerous energy restrictions it has placed on the United States could cost America as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025, according to the National Economic Research Associates.


    The international mining giant Peabody Energy applauded the president's move.

    "Peabody believes that this path cannot be followed without substantially impacting the U.S. economy, increasing electricity costs on families and businesses, and requiring the power sector to rely on less diverse and more intermittent energy sources."

    But others point out that study about lost jobs that the president cited was written by groups that are opposed to the Paris accords, and that they used some worst-case predictions that other economists believe are unrealistic.

    Asked about this on NBC this morning, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross defended using these studies.

  • WILBUR ROSS, U.S. Commerce Secretary:

    Well, you should know what your downside is. That's an important thing. And particularly when you're trying to forecast events many years out into the future, it's very, very difficult to be accurate.


    Roberton Williams is an economist with Resources For the Future, a nonpartisan group that studied the Paris accord.

    ROBERTON WILLIAMS, Senior Fellow, Resources For the Future: What we have modeled in terms of job effects is that it's much more of a job shift than it is job loss or net job gain, that jobs go away in coal, and you get more jobs in some green jobs, renewable energy, small effects elsewhere. But there is not a big — it is not a big drop.


    The president also argued that while coal jobs in the U.S. would suffer, other nations like India and China, the other two major global carbon polluters, would have a free hand.


    China will be able to increase these emissions by a staggering number of years, 13. They can do whatever they want for 13 years. Not us.


    But Jason Grumet said it wasn't true that other countries can do whatever they want.


    The assertion that the United States fundamentally disabled our economy, while other countries move forward with absolutely no concern is just not accurate.

    I think that the U.S. made some meaningful commitments. And I think it's perfectly reasonable for President Trump to suggest that we want to reconsider those commitments. Renegotiating the United States' commitments is absolutely right. But it is an exaggeration to suggest that other countries were not sincere or did not make meaningful commitments.


    The president also touched on an issue that is central to the Paris accord, which is: Can it achieve its stated goal of preventing the planet from warming an additional two degrees Celsius, or about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit?

    Yesterday, the president said the accord will barely affect global temperatures.


    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.


    Again, there's a question of where this data comes from, and whether the president's statement accurately reflects the science.

    The White House said the president was citing this study done by researchers at MIT. But MIT said today the president misused their research.

    JOHN REILLY, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: The president really took the study out of context by pointing out this two-tenths of a degree.


    John Reilly is co-author of this MIT report.


    This was the incremental effect of Paris compared to the previous accord. Altogether, if we look at past policy, we think that's reduced warming by a full degree Celsius. We still have more we need to do to get to the ultimate goal of two degrees, but Paris is an important step along that way.


    And Roberton Williams argues that even a minor slowing of global warming can hold off some major destruction.


    Even small changes in temperature, even small reductions below that what we get without any action, can make a big difference in how much damage there is to the world. So, even tenths of a degree can make a difference of hundreds of billions of dollars.


    Yesterday, the president said the U.S. will formally withdraw from the accord. It's a process that could take several years to complete.

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