Trump’s fake news spin on Paris climate deal

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Trump’s fake news spin on Paris climate deal

The US President has erred heavily in pulling his country out of an international pact to contain greenhouse gas emissions. Worse, he has used wrong arguments

US President Donald Trump has announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris agreement, a decision which was widely anticipated. This move is truly unfortunate, because it completely ignores the scientific reality of climate change and the moral responsibility of the US for taking action. In cumulative terms, the US has been the largest emitter of greenhouse gases which are resulting in human-induced climate change.

Scientifically, climate change is caused by the high concentration levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs), and not the flow of emissions taking place today. Since the beginning of industrialisation and during the period 1850 to 2011, according to a recent estimate, the US has been responsible for 27 per cent of total CO2 emissions, the European Union (28 countries) 25 per cent and China only 11 per cent The US, therefore, has the overwhelming share of responsibility for human-induced climate change, a fact which President Trump has clearly ignored. Unfortunately, much of the media in developed countries and the US also ignores this fact, while only highlighting China as being the largest emitter of CO2 currently.

President Trump stated in his announcement, “At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country?”  On the other hand, the decision of  Trump is what really causes laughter, because it rests on a distortion of facts and turning away from scientific reality. The most charitable view of his decision would be to conclude that it displays a level of ignorance and insensitivity totally unexpected of a leader of the most powerful nation on earth and the one most responsible for human-induced climate change.

But a more realistic explanation is that this is payback time for benefitting some major lobbies and industry groups who would prefer to continue earning easy profits. To them, the damage to the earth’s ecosystems and growing risks from climate change, which would become progressively more serious in the lifetimes of their children and grandchildren, is a threat of no consequence. These lobbies represent those very forces which lavishly funded and supported Trump’s presidential campaign.

The scientific assessment of climate change has been carried out over the past three decades by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) through a series of assessment reports to which thousands of the best scientists in the world have contributed as a labor of love and professional prestige, involving hundreds of top level scientists from the US itself, including Nobel Prize winners.  Significantly, every report of the IPCC is approved by all the Governments of the world, which are part of the UN system, including that of the US. The Fourth Assessment Report of the panel, which was released in 2007, was approved and accepted by the US Administration, led at that time by President George W Bush.

It is difficult to believe that President Trump would not have been briefed about these facts. Then why have falsehoods been perpetrated that climate change is a hoax, and fake news created that the subject of human influence on the earth’s climate is a Chinese invention possibly to disrupt economic growth in the US? Is it possible that the head of Government of the country with the highest expertise in science and with the greatest wealth of scientific knowledge could be so oblivious of the work of the IPCC and his country's own scientists?

Could this be feigned ignorance, put forward only to justify a decision that suits certain vested interests? After all, the President’s own daughter, Ivanka, is reported to have advised her father not to withdraw from Paris — advice that she must have put forward surely on the basis of scientific arguments and specific references to what the world is witnessing all around as evidence of the impacts of climate change even today. 

Contrary to earlier concerns and fears, the impact of President Trump’s decision would most likely lead to other countries enhancing their resolve to fully implement the Paris agreement, as indeed has been emphasised already by the European Union and China. India, as the world’s second most populous country, will not stay behind. It is important to note that in a Press conference, the nation’s Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj rightly dismissed President Trump’s allegation that India had demanded “billions and billions” of dollars for the Green Climate Fund as a condition for becoming a signatory in the Paris agreement. Clearly, this accusation on the part of the US President was also a case of fake news.

The result of the isolation of the US from this upsurge of efforts towards clean energy and reduced GHG emissions would be to leave US industry at a serious disadvantage. Fortunately, even in the US, several States, cities and even business organisations will intensify their efforts to reduce emissions, as indeed Governor Jerry Brown of California has reiterated in the wake of President Trump’s announcement. 

The President’s ignorance of the reality in his own country is typified by his statement, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” He is obviously unaware that according to a recent report, Pittsburgh is currently providing 13,000 jobs to people working in the renewable energy field, far more than those working on fossil fuel-based energy supply. The Mayor of Pittsburgh, in a statement, promptly deprecated Trump’s decision and clarified, “I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris agreement for our people, our economy and future.” Several other US cities are likely to take a similar position.

All in all, the Trump decision on the Paris accord does not serve his intent of “America first”, but actually puts America last in a race that the rest of the world is now likely to speed up, in contrast with the US. It is inevitable that in a few years US industry may feel left behind and will put pressure on the US Administration to rejoin the Paris agreement and possibly enhance its demand for reduction of GHG emissions.  At that stage, ironically, it may become apparent that Donald Trump actually helped the rest of the world in banding together and moving resolutely forward and at the same time retarding opportunities for US industry. So much for ‘America first’!

(The writer is former chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2002-15)

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