paris accord climate change

Trump exits Paris Agreement: Musk leaves advisory board; mixed response from US companies

US President Donald Trump has formally announced that the US will leave the Paris Agreement, a global agreement between 195 countries to limit the impact of climate change.

In a speech, Trump said that withdrawing the country would stave off an economic crisis and protect American jobs - but not all American companies seemed to agree.

Criticism of his decision rolled in from blue-chip companies like Facebook, Apple, Ford and Microsoft, while the response from fossil fuel groups with the most to gain from a relaxation of US carbon emissions standards was muted.

Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk and Walt Disney CEO Robert Iger said they would leave White House advisory councils over Trump’s decision.

Even the president of the World Coal Association, Benjamin Sporton, has admitted he holds mixed feelings about Trump’s announcement, adding he was eager to see a US policy that actively promotes a place for coal in the global energy mix.

“What we really need to see, if the president wants to re-enter the deal, is that he can change the agreement to recognise the role of all sources of energy, including coal,” Sporton said, adding his group had described to administration officials the benefits of remaining in the agreement.

The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s biggest trade group, meanwhile, issued a statement saying it had never taken an official position on the Paris accord.

A number of its members, including Exxon Mobil Corp and ConocoPhillips, had publicly supported the deal.

“For us, our position on the Paris Agreement... we need a framework like that to address the risks of climate change,” Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods told reporters on the sidelines of the company’s annual general meeting on Wednesday.

Some other groups expressed measured support for Trump’s decision, saying it provided an opportunity to fix problems with the deal.

“Manufacturers support the spirit of the Paris Agreement and the effort to address climate change through a fair international agreement. But as the president has acknowledged, certain elements of this deal were not equitable for US manufacturers,” said Ross Eisenberg, vice president for energy and resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers.

A spokesman for Peabody Energy Corp, America’s largest publicly traded coal miner, had said on Wednesday that the company would support a decision by Trump to withdraw from the Paris deal because the “accord is flawed on a number of levels.”

Trump vowed during his campaign to pull the United States out of the Paris deal, arguing the pact would cost the country trillions of dollars, kill jobs and stymie economic growth without providing tangible benefit.

His critics have argued, however, that the risks of climate change require action and that a shift to a low-carbon energy economy can create more jobs than it eliminates.

Spokespeople for other extractive oil and mining groups, like the National Mining Association and the American Fuel & Petrochemicals Manufacturers, declined to comment on Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris accord.

A number of other business leaders derided it in forceful terms.

“Today’s decision is a setback for the environment and for the US’s leadership position in the world,” said Goldman Sachs’ chief executive Lloyd Blankfein in his first-ever tweet.

“Disappointed with today’s decision on the Paris Agreement. Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government,” tweeted General Electric Co’s Jeff Immelt.

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, meanwhile, posted to Twitter: “Decision to withdraw from the #ParisAgreement was wrong for our planet” and “Apple is committed to fight climate change and we will never waver”.

“Withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement is bad for the environment, bad for the economy and it puts our children’s future at risk,” wrote Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a Facebook post.

The Reality Behind Trump's Claims

Trump has cited a number of reasons why the US is pulling out of the Paris Accord. E&T presents his claims against expert opinion.

White House: The Paris climate accord “would effectively decapitate our coal industry, which now supplies about one-third of our electric power”.

The Facts: The US coal industry was in decline long before the Paris accord was signed in 2015.

The primary cause has been competition from cleaner-burning natural gas, which has been made cheaper and more abundant by hydraulic fracturing.

Electric utilities have been replacing coal plants with gas-fired facilities because they are more efficient and less expensive to operate.

Trump: Claims “absolutely tremendous economic progress since Election Day”, adding “more than a million private-sector jobs”.

The Facts: Essentially correct, but Trump earns no credit for jobs created in the months before he became president.

To rack up that number, the president had to reach back to October. Even then, private-sector job creation from October through April (171,000 private-sector jobs a month) lags just slightly behind the pace of job creation for the previous six months (172,000), entirely under Barack Obama.

Trump: “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

The Facts: That may be so, but Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, is not Trump country. It voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in November, favouring her by a margin of 56 per cent to Trump’s 40 per cent.

The city has a climate action plan committing to boost the use of renewable energy.

Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto, a Democrat, has been an outspoken supporter of the Paris accord, and tweeted after Mr Trump’s announcement that “as the Mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future”.

White House: “According to a study by NERA Consulting, meeting the Obama administration’s requirements in the Paris Accord would cost the US economy nearly three trillion dollars over the next several decades. By 2040, our economy would lose 6.5 million industrial sector jobs - including 3.1 million manufacturing sector jobs.”

The Facts: This study was paid for by two groups that have long opposed environmental regulation, the US Chamber of Commerce and the American Council for Capital Formation.

Both get financial backing from those who profit from the continued burning of fossil fuels.

The latter group has received money from foundations controlled by the Koch brothers, whose company owns refineries and more than 4,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines.

The study makes worst-case assumptions that may inflate the cost of meeting US targets under the Paris accord while largely ignoring the economic benefits to American businesses from building and operating renewable energy projects.

Academic studies have found that increased environmental regulation does not actually have much impact on employment. Jobs lost at polluting companies tend to be offset by new jobs in green technology.

White House, citing a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): “If all member nations met their obligations, the impact on the climate would be negligible” curbing temperature rise by “less than 0.2 degrees Celsius in 2100”.

The Facts: The co-founder of the MIT programme on climate change says the administration is citing an outdated report, taken out of context.

Jake Jacoby said the actual global impact of meeting targets under the Paris accord would be to curb rising temperatures by one degree Celsius, or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

“They found a number that made the point they want to make,” Mr Jacoby said. “It’s kind of a debate trick.”

One degree may not sound like much, but Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute in Germany, says: “Every tenth of a degree increases the number of unprecedented extreme weather events considerably.”


Climate change infographic: facts and figures

Climate change infographic

Image credit: Graphic News

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