Reversing US Leadership in Climate Talks: Donald Trump and the Paris Agreement

“America has led the world in carbon dioxide reductions even as we have continued to expand our energy production.”

Truth-O-Meter: Half True (partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context)

On June 1st, 2017, United States President Donald Trump announced his decision to pull the country out of the Paris Climate Accords. The agreement aims to keep global temperature rise well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by bringing all nations together to work on reducing their individual carbon footprints. President Trump has repeatedly argued that climate change is a hoax and international efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions unfairly burden American middle-class workers. As one of the wealthiest, most developed, and historically one of the most polluting countries on the planet, the United States is vital in combating fossil fuel overuse and carbon dioxide emissions. Under the previous administration, the Environmental Protection Agency pushed power sector carbon regulations. Continued efforts to reduce emissions, particularly from electricity production, are dependent on actions being taken to shift to cleaner fuels and renewable sources of energy.

The United States is the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide (16% of global emissions), preceded by China (28%) and followed by India. Both the latter nations have substantially larger populations, but emit less carbon dioxide per capita. Per capita emissions in the United States have fallen 16%, starting in the mid- to late-2000’s. In 2005, it released a total of 5,702 metric tons (Mt) of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but reduced that by 9.2% by 2014, when the country emitted 5,176 MtCO2 (IEA). A major factor in this decrease is the declining use of coal. Hydraulic fracturing has led to a steady supply of cheap natural gas, which is not as carbon intensive as coal, and renewables have been meeting an increasing percentage of the energy demand as well. Warmer winters lessened the need for heating (EPA). There has also been an overall decline in energy consumption in the United States (Rapier).

Although President Trump’s statement is not entirely false, it both exaggerates the nation’s attempts at mitigating climate change and downplays the urgency and seriousness of the global issue. If President Trump attempts to bring back the coal industry, as he promised on his campaign trail, carbon dioxide emission levels could jump. The upsurge in coal-fired power plant closures was mainly brought about by stricter air pollution standards that came into effect in 2015 (PBL Netherlands EAA). Lessening or nullifying those regulations would end much of the progress the country has made. One things is certain: By leaving the Paris Climate Accords, the United States will certainly not be leading in carbon dioxide emissions. Just because the last decade has seen an improvement in US emissions does not guarantee a continued decline in greenhouse gas release.

Works Cited

International Energy Agency. CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion: Highlights. 2016.

PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. Trends in Global CO2 Emissions. The Hague, 2016.

Rapier, Robert. “The U.S. Leads All Countries in Lowering Carbon Dioxide Emissions.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 21 June 2016.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990-2015. 2017.

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