On Tuesday, Donald Trump made a grand show of being presidential for the cameras. But on Wednesday, he was back to talking like a grandpa who watches too much Fox News (which he in fact is) when Norway’s prime minister visited the White House. During their joint press conference, a reporter asked about the Paris Agreement. The result was the usual Trumpian word salad that betrays a strong ignorance about the world’s main climate deal and where the U.S. stands.
Take a look if you don’t mind losing 90 second of your life you can never get back:
There is so much wrong in these comments and so much that goes against everything we know about Trump and his administration’s positions on climate change. And yet seemingly every news outlet is trumpeting the line that the U.S. “could go back in.” Seriously, it’s embarrassing.
Let’s unpack the statement that’s responsible for these dumb headlines:
It treated the United States very badly, and frankly, it’s an agreement that I have no problem with, but I had a problem with the agreement that they signed, because as usual, they made a bad deal. So we could conceivably go back in.
The president does not have a problem with an agreement that he has a problem with. Uh, OK?
But about that getting back in part. Not to get all “actually ☝️,” but the president has already announced his intent to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement. The earliest this can happen is Nov. 3, 2020 (also election day so mark you calendars!). In short: the U.S. is not officially out yet.
But while the U.S. isn’t officially out of the agreement, for all intents and purposes, it has checked out. The U.S. delegation’s only event at the past round of international climate talks was a panel promoting fossil fuels. Meanwhile the administration has pursued an aggressive pro-oil and coal agenda at home and installed climate deniers in key cabinet positions. The president’s only public comments on climate change have been a chucklehead response to the recent cold snap.
There has been no pivot to support good climate policies in the first year of the Trump administration and I sincerely doubt there’s any pivot coming over the next three years.
And what about that part about being “very unfair to the United States?” Yeah, it’s equally misguided.
Every 👏 country 👏 chose 👏 its 👏 own 👏 commitment 👏 to 👏 the 👏 agreement. The U.S. made a pledge based on “common but differentiated responsibilities,” a concept that undergirds all recent climate negotiations. It is a premise the Trump administration is completely unaware of or willfully ignoring when it discusses the Paris Agreement.
In a nutshell: each country commits to what it can feasibly do, recognizing rich countries that have historically polluted a lot and gotten rich off said pollution (like, you know, the U.S.) have a bigger responsibility to address climate change than poorer countries (who it also should be added, will suffer the most). This is not hard to understand. And once you grasp this simple concept, it is clear why China has committed to peak its carbon emissions in 2030 at the latest while the U.S. under the Obama administration committed to reduce its emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
It is also not hard to understand that all the commitments on the Paris Agreement are not enough action and the goal is ratchet up the ambitions in the future. The irony is that in defending his intent to leave the Paris Agreement, Trump argued in particularly jumbled fashion exactly this point:
“As an example, China, by 2030, they don’t kick in until 2030. Russia, some place in the mid-1990s that was their standard and that was never a good standard because that was a dirty standard for the environment.”
This is all true! We all need to do more (especially Russia who has an extremely garbage pledge)! But by trying to back out of the agreement and attempting to dig up, burn, or export every last drop of oil and bit of coal under U.S. soil, Trump is ensuring the exact opposite outcome.
There’s more crap about how it would hurt the economy and “some estimates” that we would’ve had to close businesses to comply with the agreement, which lol wut. Trump also marveled at Norway’s hydropower and wished the U.S., which gets more than 6 percent of its electricity from hydro, had more of it.
At every turn, Trump’s responses underscored how little he understands climate science, international policy, and the U.S. energy system. Unfortunately, that’s not really news.