Over the weekend, a confusing back-and-forth between the White House and the Wall Street Journal briefly reignited hopes that the US would remain an active participant in the Paris Climate Agreement. Following a climate change conference in Montreal, which the US was not attending in an official capacity, European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete told the WSJ that “The US has stated that they will not renegotiate the Paris accord, but they will try to review the terms on which they could be engaged under this agreement”.
The WSJ interpreted this admittedly promising-sounding statement to mean “the US wouldn’t pull out of the Paris Agreement”, per the lede to the original article, which has now been heavily edited. On Sunday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tossed additional fuel on the fire, when he said on CBS’ “Face The Nation” that he thought the US could stay in the agreement “under the right conditions”.
Our position on the Paris agreement has not changed. @POTUS has been clear, US withdrawing unless we get pro-America terms.
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) September 16, 2017
Of course, this is all just spin. The US is not rejoining the Paris Agreement.
Essentially, WSJ misinterpreted a regurgitation of the lie at the centre of Trump’s June “Prexit” speech: That the Paris Agreement’s terms were unfairly skewed against American business interests. The problem, both in the original WSJ report (which now reads far more sceptical about the White House rejoining the Paris Agreement) and re-blogs from other outlets, is that this line is so mendacious that even reporting it straight gives unearned credit to what’s essentially a Fox News talking point.
Following publication of the original report, the White House fired back with a more candid take on its own intentions. Per the updated WSJ report:
“There has been no change in the US’s position on the Paris agreement,” said deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters. “As the president has made abundantly clear, the US is withdrawing unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favourable to our country.”
Let’s be clear: There are no mandatory terms for America’s involvement in the Paris Agreement. The US sets its own emissions goals and there are no penalties if it fails those goals. Failure at this point seems inevitable, as the EPA continues to roll back key pillars of Obama’s climate legacy, and even questions its own authority to regulate carbon.
It’s all voluntary. How could the terms be any more favourable?
As a way of sidestepping a conversation on human-caused climate change, which both Trump and EPA head Scott Pruitt routinely deny, the Trump Administration argues the Paris Agreement doesn’t put “America First”, instead giving the country’s rivals an unfair advantage. As they argue, the Paris Agreement puts an unfair burden on coal mines, who can’t meet stringent carbon emissions requirements. Of course, the coal industry has been faltering for decades, largely due to automation and competition from natural gas.
The Trump administration has also argued China has weaker goals under the Paris Agreement, and that it doesn’t have to hit those goals until 2030. This is also a lie: China has been aggressively pursuing its emissions reductions targets, with deep cuts to coal and steel manufacturing counterbalanced by heavy investments in wind and solar. Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported on the Chinese government’s intention to eventually end the production and sale of fossil fuel-powered cars.
There’s no evidence to support the notion that Trump will renege on his promise to pull out of the Paris Agreement, nor that he ever even knew what Paris was. Luckily, withdrawing from Paris is a four-year long process, while rejoining takes only 30 days. The effects of willful ignorance about the impacts of climate change, however, could last a lifetime.