5 claims Trump used to justify pulling the US out of the Paris agreement — and the reality

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Donald Trump, announcing his decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord, argued the deal would have led to an insignificant global temperature drop.
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Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

On Thursday, President Donald Trump announced that he will begin the process of pulling the US out of the Paris climate agreement. The accord, signed by all but two countries, aims to keep the world from warming 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 press 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.


Job losses

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Justin Merriman/Getty

Donald 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 criticized 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 WRIalso 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 Defense Council suggests, is that the development of clean energy technologies will accelerate. Even since 2016 – the energy outlook the NERA report uses – 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 faster than the US economy overall in 2016.


Just a tiny temperature increase

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The 2015 Arctic sea ice summertime minimum was 699,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average, shown here as a gold line in this visual representation of a NASA analysis of satellite data released September 14, 2015.
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NASA via Reuters

Trump also suggested that the Paris agreement would only lead to 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.

Global temperature is going to 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 for this scenario is 4.2 degrees C (7.6 degrees F). 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, average global temperatures 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’d 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 will emit 6.7 gigatons of CO2 per year instead of the 5.3 gigatons of CO2 per year that the US would have emitted under the agreement. That’s a difference of 1.4 gigatons annually.

As of 2013, China emitted 9.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year – which comes out to 0.025 gigatons per day. 14 days’ worth would be 0.35 gigatons – far less than the annual US decrease.


A negative economic impact on the US

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President Donald Trump announces his decision that the United States will withdraw from the landmark Paris Climate Agreement.
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REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

In his speech, Donald Trump suggested that remaining in the agreement would cost the US economy “close to $3 trillion 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.”

Trump didn’t cite a source for that statistic, but he suggested in a speech on April 29 that the cost would be $2.5 trillion – and non-partisan 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 and 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.

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 $21.22 per year until 2025, or a rate that starts at $16.87 and increases by 3% each year in the same period). By those numbers, the US’ GDP would see a decrease between just under 0.10 percent and 0.35 percent per year from now until 2025.


Blackouts and brownouts

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Flickr/Kool Cats Photography

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 whatever 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 only happens 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 heatwave 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 later reversed course on that (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”

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Reuters/Amit Dave

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. Many of the other countries haven’t spent anything. And many of them will never pay one dime,” he said.

The US committed to contribute $3 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 current 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 $93.60 per capita, and Sweden pledged $60.54 per capita, compared to the US’ $9.30.

The US already gave $1 billion of its pledged amount. In his speech, Trump promised that withdrawing from the agreement would mean the US won’t put any more money into the fund.