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U.S. President Donald Trump’s Take on Climate Change

Trump's backpedaling on the U.S. commitment raises questions about the prospects.

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Light Pollution at Night Disrupts Ecosystem, Says Study. VOA

“I’m not going to put the country out of business trying to maintain certain standards that probably don’t matter,” President Donald Trump told VOA when asked about the economic impacts of climate change.

When not denying its existence, the Trump administration’s approach to
climate change essentially comes down to three arguments: the United States has already cut its greenhouse gas emissions more than other countries, regardless of any international agreement; regulations to cut emissions come with high costs and few benefits; and those regulations would put the United States at a disadvantage because other countries will not follow.

“When you look at China, and when you look at other countries where they have foul air,” Trump added, “we’re going to be clean, but they’re not, and it costs a lot of money.”

As U.N. climate negotiations get under way in Poland to work out rules for implementing the Paris climate agreement — from which Trump intends to withdraw the United States — experts weigh in on the administration’s claims.

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A bus gives off exhaust fumes in Alexandria, Virginia. VOA

Emissions cuts

It’s true that the United States has reduced its greenhouse gas production more than any other country. U.S. emissions peaked in 2005. In the last decade, they have fallen by about 13 percent, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

But the United States was the world’s leading producer of greenhouse gases until 2006. And, others have made bigger cuts by percentage. Hungary’s levels, for example, decreased 14 percent.

U.S. emissions started to fall when the fracking boom took off.

The new technique of hydraulic fracturing turned the United States into a major natural gas producer. As the price of natural gas has dropped, it has been steadily replacing coal as the dominant fuel for electricity generation. Because burning natural gas produces far less carbon dioxide than coal, greenhouse gas emissions have decreased.

More recently, renewable sources such as solar and wind power have started to make inroads on the power grid.

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U.S. President Donald Trump. VOA

While U.S. emissions have fallen since the 2000s, China’s have soared.

The country pursued astonishing economic growth with an enormous investment in coal-fired power plants. China is now the leading producer of greenhouse gases by far, roughly doubling U.S. output.

Cost-benefit

Trump has argued that regulations aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions would hobble the U.S. economy. He has moved to undo the Obama administration’s proposed rules on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and efficiency standards for vehicles and appliances, among others.

Critics question whether those regulations would cost as much Trump suggests.

“None of these policies were going to have dramatic increases in the prices that consumers would see,” Duke University public policy professor Billy Pizer said. He added that normal price swings would likely swamp the cost of the regulations Trump targets.

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Paris depends on countries following through on increasingly ambitious emissions cuts. Pixabay

The emissions reductions the Obama administration pledged in Paris “were built largely on a continuation of the coal-to-gas transition and a continuation of growth in renewable energy that’s already happening,” said Alex Trembath of the Breakthrough Institute research center. As such, he added, they “don’t imply a large cost. In fact, they imply a marginal increased benefit to the U.S.”

Those benefits come, for example, because burning less coal produces less air pollution, which lowers health costs.

Not to mention the direct results of climate change: wildfires, floods, droughts and so on.

“We have enough science and enough economics to show that there are damages resulting from us releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. We know that that is not a free thing,” University of Chicago public policy professor Amir Jina said. “And yet, we are artificially setting it as free because we’re not paying the price of that externality.”

He said economists nearly unanimously support a carbon tax, a cap-and-trade program or some other way to put a price on carbon emissions.

Collective action

Few nations have taken the necessary steps to meet the emissions reduction pledges they made in Paris, according to the most recent United Nations emissions gap report.

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Developed countries are being urged to honour Paris Agreement. Flickr

Even those pledges would fall far short of the Paris goal of limiting global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, the report adds. Reaching that target will take “unprecedented and urgent action.” A 2016 report said an additional $5.2 trillion investment in renewable energy will be necessary worldwide over the next 25 years.

Trump’s statement — “we’re going to be clean, but they’re not, and it costs a lot of money” — sums up why nations are reluctant to act: no one wants to take on burdens that they think others won’t.

“It’s the thing which has been dogging action on climate change for generations,” Jina said.

“We only really solve the problem if everybody acts together,” he added. “And if enough people are not acting, then we don’t.”

Paris depends on countries following through on increasingly ambitious emissions cuts.

Each country decides what it is willing to do. Every five years, countries come together and show their progress.

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President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. VOA

“You over time build confidence in each other,” Pizer said. “Ideally, you ratchet up the commitments as you see your actions reciprocated by other countries.”

Trump’s backpedaling on the U.S. commitment raises questions about the prospects.

However, the first of these check-ins is five years away. Trump can’t formally withdraw the United States from the agreement until 2020.

Also Read: Paris Adopts Climate Action Plan, Aims to Achieve a ‘Zero-Carbon’ Future

Pizer notes that the predecessor to the Paris Agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, failed in part because it imposed caps on countries’ carbon emissions, and most of the world balked.

“In my mind, this is the best we can do,” he said. “If there were a different way to do it, I’d be all over that.” (VOA)

Next Story

White House in Support of Trump’s National Emergency Declaration

Trump said he declared the national emergency because he was unhappy with the amount of money Congress authorized.

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President Donald Trump speaks at the White House in Washington, to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border, Feb. 15, 2019. VOA

The White House is defending President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border as multiple states prepare to file legal challenges and Democrats in Congress plan to vote their disapproval.

“He could choose to ignore this crisis, but he chose not to,” Trump adviser Stephen Miller, an immigration hardliner, told Fox News Sunday.

Miller assailed former Republican President George W. Bush for what he called an “astonishing betrayal” of the U.S. nearly two decades ago when four times as many immigrants were illegally entering the United States as now. But Miller said the “bottom line” is that “you cannot conceive of a strong nation without a secure border.”

He said Trump’s action is “defending our own borders.” He illegal immigration “is a threat in our country.”

Miller said Trump’s actions were justified under a 1976 law giving presidents authority to declare national emergencies, although none of the 59 declared since then has involved instances when a president has attempted to override congressional refusal to approve funding for a specific proposal.

Trump declared the national emergency on Friday to circumvent Congress, which had refused his request for $5.7 billion in wall funding, even as it approved $1.375 billion for barriers along about 90 kilometers of the 3,200-kilometer border. Trump plans to tap more than $8 billion in government funds authorized for other projects the build the wall, although lawsuits challenging the action are already being filed to block his transfer of money.

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Border Patrol agent Vincent Pirro looks on near a border wall that separates the cities of Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, Feb. 5, 2019, in San Diego. VOA

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told ABC’s This Week that his state and others would “definitely and imminently” file a legal challenge, arguing that people all over the United States would be harmed by Trump’s move because the diverted money would not be spent on needed services.

“Typically our presidents have focused on issues where the national interests are clearly at stake,” Becerra said about previous national emergency declarations. “The national interests are not at stake here. We have the lowest level of entries into the country by those who don’t have permission than we’ve had in some 20 years.”

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said he thinks he has “a lot of discretion” in deciding which funds previously allocated for defense needs can instead be used to build a border wall. “You can trust the numbers in terms of the potential. Then you gotta marry it up with where the money would be spent.” But he said money designated for military housing would not be spent on the wall.

Trump said he declared the national emergency because he was unhappy with the amount of money Congress authorized.

“I want to do it faster,” he said. “I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it much faster.”

Trump’s staunchest critics, including Democrats who have announced they are running against him next year and other lawmakers, have attacked his national emergency declaration as an end-run around the constitutional provision that U.S. funding authorization lies with Congress and noted that he said that he did not need to take action.

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Trump declared the national emergency on Friday to circumvent Congress, which had refused his request for $5.7 billion in wall funding. VOA

Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN, “If we give away, if we surrender the power of the purse… there will be little check and no balance left. It’ll not be a separation of powers anymore, just a separation of parties.”

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Journalist Bob Woodward, who chronicled the first year of the Trump presidency in a best-selling book called “Fear,” told Fox News he believes Trump made the national emergency declaration because “he looks strong. He looks tough to lots of people.”

Trump centered much of his successful 2016 campaign for the White House on a vow to build the wall and make Mexico pay for it. He long since abandoned direct payment from Mexico, when its leaders rejected the idea, and instead sought congressional approval of the U.S. taxpayer funding. (VOA)