A Fort Lauderdale home during a 2015 flood. (Joe Raedle/Getty)

Trump’s Paris climate agreement speech, annotated by an expert in energy and foreign policy

by David Victor on June 2, 2017

President Trump's speech Thursday, announcing that the US will pull out of the Paris agreement on climate change, is filled with factual errors and logical howlers. It's not often that someone who commands such vast resources for checking content commits so many misstatements — whether by accident or intent — all toward an end, pulling out of Paris, that will harm US interests. As the annotations below suggest, essentially every substantive paragraph in the president's speech is anchored in sand.
—David Victor, professor in the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California San Diego, and director of the school's Laboratory on International Law and Regulation. He is also co-chair of the Brookings Initiative on Energy and Climate.

Thank you very much. Thank you. I would like to begin by addressing the terrorist attack in Manila. We’re closely monitoring the situation, and I will continue to give updates if anything happens during this period of time. But it is really very sad as to what’s going on throughout the world with terror. Our thoughts and our prayers are with all of those affected.

Before we discuss the Paris accord, I’d like to begin with an update on our tremendous — absolutely tremendous — economic progress since Election Day on November 8. The economy is starting to come back, and very, very rapidly. We’ve added $3.3 trillion in stock market value to our economy, and more than a million private sector jobs.1 I have just returned from a trip overseas where we concluded nearly $350 billion of military and economic development for the United States, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. It was a very, very successful trip, believe me. Thank you. Thank you.

Trump begins his speech by surveying supposed triumphs unrelated to climate change, but it’s telling that he bends the truth right away. For instance, the stock market is not the economy. After Trump’s election, we saw a bump in the Dow in part because Wall Street expected there would be massive infrastructure spending and massive tax reform. Neither has happened. Wall Street will reset to reality. What’s more, the rate of private sector job growth since the election is within the bounds of normal economic activity; little or none of it traces back to the administration’s policies.

David Victor

In my meetings at the G7, we have taken historic steps to demand fair and reciprocal trade that gives Americans a level playing field against other nations. We’re also working very hard for peace in the Middle East, and perhaps even peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Our attacks on terrorism are greatly stepped up — and you see that, you see it all over — from the previous administration, including getting many other countries to make major contributions to the fight against terror. Big, big contributions are being made by countries that weren’t doing so much in the form of contribution.1

Trump is turning to the theme that other countries are taking advantage of the United States, which will play a large role in his discussion of the Paris agreement. The other G7 members would report a very different experience. They were already highly active in these areas — highly active in addressing terrorism, for instance, which most of them suffer directly already. Though Trump does not specify which G7 countries he means, the UK, France, and Germany would be especially surprised to learn that they have been sitting out the terror fight, given the appalling attacks they’ve endured.

David Victor

One by one, we are keeping the promises I made to the American people during my campaign for president — whether it’s cutting job-killing regulations; appointing and confirming a tremendous Supreme Court justice; putting in place tough new ethics rules; achieving a record reduction in illegal immigration on our southern border; or bringing jobs, plants, and factories back into the United States at numbers which no one until this point thought even possible. And believe me, we’ve just begun. The fruits of our labor will be seen very shortly, even more so.

On these issues and so many more, we’re following through on our commitments. And I don’t want anything to get in our way. I am fighting every day for the great people of this country. Therefore, in order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord — thank you, thank you — but begin negotiations to reenter 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.1

This passage either reveals a complete misunderstanding of the Paris accords or actively misrepresents them. Under the terms of the agreement, each country makes its own voluntary commitment to reducing greenhouse gases and adopting other climate-related policies. By design, each can adjust that commitment as circumstances, technology, and politics change. If the US made a pledge that it can’t honor — as many studies show is the case for the Obama administration’s pledge to cut emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 — then the US can adjust. There is no “renegotiation,” because the targets are nonbinding and self-declared.

David Victor

As president, I can put no other consideration before the well-being of American citizens. The Paris climate accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers — who I love — and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production.

Thus, as of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the nonbinding 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.

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. This includes 440,000 fewer manufacturing jobs — not what we need — believe me, this is not what we need — including automobile jobs, and the further decimation of vital American industries on which countless communities rely.1 They rely for so much, and we would be giving them so little.

The previous three paragraphs rest on a completely flawed analysis of the exposure of the US economy to the costs of controlling emissions. Here President Trump is referring to an analysis done by a credible firm (NERA Economic Consulting) that runs a solid economic model. But the firm was asked to use its model to assess an implausible, misleading scenario: What would it cost if the US were forced to meet the Obama pledge of cutting emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels? Many studies have come out showing that the US is not on track to meet those targets (and the Trump policies make that even more true); that goal is no longer considered feasible. So asking what it would cost to torque the economy to honor these out-of-reach, nonbinding pledges is nuts.

David Victor

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 percent; cement down 23 percent; iron and steel down 38 percent; coal — and I happen to love the coal miners — down 86 percent; natural gas down 31 percent. The cost to the economy at this time would be close to $3 trillion in lost GDP and 6.5 million industrial jobs,1 while households would have $7,000 less income and, in many cases, much worse than that.

If you plug crazy assumptions into a model, you get crazy outputs. Does anyone really think we’d adopt policies in 2017 that would aim for impractical goals and keep those in place until 2040, as the costs mounted? Again, the ability to adjust goals is built into the Paris agreement.

David Victor

Not only does this deal subject our citizens to harsh economic restrictions, it fails to live up to our environmental ideals. As someone who cares deeply about the environment, which I do, I cannot in good conscience support a deal that punishes the United States — which is what it does — the world’s leader in environmental protection, while imposing no meaningful obligations on the world’s leading polluters. For example, under the agreement, 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.1 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.

Almost every sentence in this paragraph is incorrect. Trump distinguishes between the US and “the world’s leading polluters.” China is the world’s biggest emitter and the US is second, but there are other big emitters as well. Chinese emissions are high, to be sure, but China is a massive country — at 1.4 billion people, it’s almost four times the size of the United States. On a per capita basis, China’s emissions are way below those of the US. And India’s emissions are even lower in both absolute and per capita levels. Moreover, the Chinese people can’t do “whatever they want.” China and India are in the middle of massive programs to reduce dependence on conventional coal because those technologies are choking their cities. (There are other culprits for the smog as well.) They are building much cleaner coal plants — the best plants in China are, for example, much more efficient than those in the United States. But making the shift requires time because in these countries, as in the US, energy technologies are expensive and turn over slowly.

David Victor

Further, while the current agreement effectively blocks the development of clean coal in America — which it does, and the mines are starting to open up. We’re having a big opening in two weeks. Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, so many places. A big opening of a brand new mine. It’s unheard of. For many, many years, that hasn’t happened. They asked me if I’d go. I’m going to try. China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So we can’t build the plants, but they can,1 according to this agreement. India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020. Think of it: India can double their coal production. We’re supposed to get rid of ours.

A) this is recklessly incorrect. Nothing in the Paris agreement blocks clean coal in America. The definition of “clean coal” is hard to pin down because people in the coal industry want clean coal to mean almost anything. But analysts who are serious about cutting emissions while also knowing that coal might be a big part of the energy system use the term “clean coal” to mean power plants that capture and store or use the CO2 pollution — keeping much if not nearly all of it from going into the atmosphere, where it causes warming. Paris and the Obama-era policies could have been good news for clean coal. On day one of the Paris meeting in 2015, the US was one of many countries that pledged to expand spending on advanced technology, a broad category that includes clean coal. The new Trump budget radically cuts the bedrock of that technology program and is vague about what it will do for clean coal otherwise.

David Victor

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. The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris agreement — they went wild; they were so happy — for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage.1 A cynic would say the obvious reason for economic competitors and their wish to see us remain in the agreement is so that we continue to suffer this self-inflicted major economic wound. We would find it very hard to compete with other countries from other parts of the world.

In fact, it was everyone who has worked seriously on the problem of climate change who went “wild” when Paris was adopted. Not because it put a thumb on the scale against the United States but because it was the first serious agreement in many years to tackle the problem.

David Victor

We have among the most abundant energy reserves on 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 nation1 — its great wealth, its phenomenal wealth; not so long ago, we had no idea we had such wealth — and leaving millions and millions of families trapped in poverty and joblessness.

Nothing in the Paris agreement puts America’s vast wealth of fossil reserves under lock and key. In fact, US energy output is expanding again with new drilling onshore (especially in shale deposits) and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico — now that the firms have found ways to cut costs and compete, even at low oil prices. The single largest source of reduction in US emissions of warming gases has come from natural gas — thanks to horizontal drilling and “fracking.” And it is cheap gas that is the main threat to US coal output, not the Paris agreement or Obama-era regulations such as the Clean Power Plan.

David Victor

The agreement is a massive redistribution of United States wealth to other countries. 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 will be at grave risk of brownouts and blackouts,1 our businesses will come to a halt in many cases, and the American family will suffer the consequences in the form of lost jobs and a very diminished quality of life.

Here the president seems to fear that the country will be forced to move quickly to all wind and solar power and that will make electricity unreliable. There are no credible mainstream assessments that predict that outcome, and the government’s own Energy Information Agency envisions many possible futures for power generation — all with a balance of sources, not just renewables. Grid operators have long been focused on reliability and have strong legal obligations to keep power reliable.

David Victor

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 (hand gesture) — 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 America1 — and this is an incredible statistic — would totally wipe out the gains from America's expected reductions in the year 2030, after we have had to spend billions and billions of dollars, lost jobs, closed factories, and suffered much higher energy costs for our businesses and for our homes.

First, 14 days of Chinese emissions don't create 0.2 degrees of climate warming. And the purpose of Paris is not simply to produce a discrete shift in emissions over a short period of time. It is to set up a process that leads to confidence and credibility that, in turn, will make deeper cuts in cost-effective ways feasible in future. That’s what really matters to the climate — not the seemingly small impact of the particular pledges made in Paris but the process that will lead to bigger changes. The president has pointed to an MIT study as the source of the estimate that Paris would cut warming only 0.2 degrees. But right after the speech, the authors of that study disavowed his analysis. My read of the research is that Trump is off by roughly a factor of 5 — the Paris process would cut warming about a degree. That’s not enough to stop warming, but it is actually a big deal.

David Victor

As the Wall Street Journal wrote this morning, the reality is that withdrawing is in America’s economic interest and won’t matter much to the climate. The United States, under the Trump administration, will continue to be the cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth. We'll be the cleanest. We're going to have the cleanest air. We're going to have the cleanest water. We will be environmentally friendly, but we're not going to put our businesses out of work, and we're not going to lose our jobs. We're going to grow; we're going to grow rapidly.

And I think you just read — it just came out minutes ago, the small-business report — small businesses as of just now are booming, hiring people. One of the best reports they've seen in many years. 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.

So if the obstructionists want to get together with me, let’s make them non-obstructionists. We will all sit down, and we will get back into the deal. And we’ll make it good, and we won’t be closing up our factories, and we won’t be losing our jobs. And we’ll sit down with the Democrats and all of the people that represent either the Paris accord or something that we can do that's much better than the Paris accord. And I think the people of our country will be thrilled, and I think then the people of the world will be thrilled. But until we do that, we're out of the agreement.

I will work to ensure that America remains the world’s leader on environmental issues, but under a framework that is fair and where the burdens and responsibilities are equally shared among the many nations all around the world.

No responsible leader can put the workers — and the people — of their country at this debilitating and tremendous disadvantage. The fact that the Paris deal hamstrings the United States, while empowering some of the world’s top-polluting countries, should dispel any doubt as to the real reason why foreign lobbyists wish to keep our magnificent country tied up and bound down by this agreement: It’s to give their country an economic edge over the United States.1 That's not going to happen while I’m president. I’m sorry.

My job as president is to do everything within my power to give America a level playing field and to create the economic, regulatory, and tax structures that make America the most prosperous and productive country on Earth, and with the highest standard of living and the highest standard of environmental protection.

Much of the text in the previous few paragraphs is logically incoherent, so it is hard to know how to respond. But to suggest that “foreign lobbyists wish to keep our magnificent country tied up and bound down” completely misrepresents the politics around Paris. Within Trump’s own administration, it was widely reported that serious, well-seasoned negotiators argued in favor of staying in the Paris agreement — including Trump’s own secretary of state and defense secretary. It is interesting to note that neither attended the announcement. (Rick Perry, Trump’s energy secretary, also skipped the event, but he was headed to Japan and China, where he will surely get an earful about the unreliability of American cooperation on energy and climate issues.) And the main lobbyists pushing for the US to stay in the agreement aren’t foreign — they are American corporations, including firms in the industries that Trump says will be hardest hit by Paris. In fact, the CEO of Exxon Mobil personally lobbied the president to stay in the accord, and over the past 24 hours an avalanche of CEOs have criticized Trump’s decision. Whom do you believe — the president who has no experience in these industries, or the CEOs who know that climate change is a serious problem for the long haul and that stability in policy is best for the country?

David Victor

Our tax bill is moving along in Congress, and I believe it’s doing very well. I think a lot of people will be very pleasantly surprised. The Republicans are working very, very hard. We’d love to have support from the Democrats, but we may have to go it alone. But it’s going very well. The Paris agreement handicaps the United States economy in order to win praise from the very foreign capitals and global activists that have long sought to gain wealth at our country’s expense. They don’t put America first. I do, and I always will.

The same nations asking us to stay in the agreement are the countries that have collectively cost America trillions of dollars through tough trade practices and, in many cases, lax contributions to our critical military alliance. You see what’s happening. It’s pretty obvious to those that want to keep an open mind.

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.1

Since Trump’s speech, I have spoken with reporters from around the world, and my sense is that people aren’t laughing at us for considering the option of staying in Paris. Rather, they are bewildered as to why a deal that the US negotiated in its own image is now one we will reject — with specious arguments that it requires that we plunge our economy into darkness.

David Victor

I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris. I promised I would exit or renegotiate any deal which fails to serve America’s interests. Many trade deals will soon be under renegotiation. Very rarely do we have a deal that works for this country, but they’ll soon be under renegotiation. The process has begun from day one. But now we’re down to business.

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 $100 billion to developing countries, all on top of America’s existing and massive foreign aid payments.1

This is incorrect. In 2009, at the Copenhagen climate talks, the more advanced nations (including China) pledged $100 billion per year in new resources to the much less developed countries. The $100 billion was never intended to run completely through the Green Climate Fund, which is a funding mechanism created to support the Paris agreement and located in South Korea, a close ally of the US. A large fraction of the $100 billion is expected to come from private sector investment — much of which is already underway as markets for clean energy emerge. Serious policies create those markets, and private capital follows.

David Victor

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.1 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 — including funds raided out of America’s budget for the war against terrorism. That’s where they came. Believe me, they didn’t come from me. They came just before I came into office. Not good. And not good the way they took the money.

All of this is wrong. We aren’t going to be paying “billions and billions and billions.” The US commitment to the GCF right now is $3 billion, most of which Trump has said he won’t pay. And as a fraction of GDP, many other nations are already doing a lot more than we are — for example, Norway.

David Victor

In 2015, the United Nation's departing top climate officials reportedly described the $100 billion per year as peanuts, and stated that "the $100 billion is the tail that wags the dog." In 2015, the Green Climate Fund’s executive director reportedly stated that estimated funding needed would increase to $450 billion per year after 2020.1 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. America is $20 trillion in debt. Cash-strapped cities cannot hire enough police officers or fix vital infrastructure. Millions of our citizens are out of work. And yet under the Paris accord, billions of dollars that ought to be invested right here in America will be sent to the very countries that have taken our factories and our jobs away from us. So think of that.

Beyond spreading vague, unsourced innuendo about the UN, it’s hard to figure out what Trump is talking about here. Nobody who is seriously engaged with this process and attentive to reality thinks we are looking at $450 billion per year in foreign aid–style funds after 2020. The funds that the US would actually contribute are tiny compared with the amounts of money we would invest here at home in infrastructure — and the mechanisms for mobilizing these funds are completely different.

David Victor

There are serious legal and constitutional issues as well. Foreign leaders in Europe, Asia, and across the world should not have more to say with respect to the US economy than our own citizens and their elected representatives. Thus, our withdrawal from the agreement represents a reassertion of America’s sovereignty.1 Our Constitution is unique among all the nations of the world, and it is my highest obligation and greatest honor to protect it. And I will.

Staying in the agreement could also pose serious obstacles for the United States as we begin the process of unlocking the restrictions on America’s abundant energy reserves, which we have started very strongly. It would once have been unthinkable that an international agreement could prevent the United States from conducting its own domestic economic affairs, but this is the new reality we face if we do not leave the agreement or if we do not negotiate a far better deal.

Paris does not and never will give “foreign leaders” more say on the US economy than America’s own politicians. And wrapping the US exit in a reassertion of sovereignty misunderstands the true nature of sovereignty in the modern world. Sovereignty is about the ability to have a legitimate say in one’s own affairs — not a license to wall the country off from all others in ways that cause self-inflicted harm.

David Victor

The risks grow as historically these agreements only tend to become more and more ambitious over time. In other words, the Paris framework is a starting point — as bad as it is — not an end point. 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.1

The US does not have massive legal liability merely by staying in the Paris agreement. It might decide to adopt those liabilities in future (by, for example, adopting binding agreements that constrain US emissions along with emissions from other countries because those constraints would deliver common goals), but that would be a matter of choice — a choice that the US would make, as it always has, by looking at the benefits of pooling sovereignty with other countries to manage collective problems rather than letting each country make those choices on its own. The US has a strong interest in effective global solutions to the climate problem — a topic I explore today in more detail at Yale Environment 360.

David Victor

As president, I have one obligation, and that obligation is to the American people. The Paris accord would undermine our economy, hamstring our workers, weaken our sovereignty, impose unacceptable legal risks, and put us at a permanent disadvantage to the other countries of the world. 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, Michigan, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — along with many, many other locations within our great country — before Paris, France. It is time to make America great again. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much.

The latest text has been updated.

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