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Morning News Brief: U.S. Pulls Out Of International Climate Accord


World leaders, scientists and a whole lot of business executives pleaded with him not to do it, but it was a promise Donald Trump had made over and over again to his base.


Yeah, that promise was that the United States would leave the Paris climate agreement. And in the Rose Garden yesterday, President Trump said that under that Paris deal, the United States would have to pay billions and billions and billions of dollars while many other countries would, quote, "never pay a dime."


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The Paris climate accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries.

MARTIN: The president said that by withdrawing from the accord, he was reasserting American sovereignty. So we're going to talk about different aspects of this decision. First up, NPR's Susan Davis - she's in the studio to help us read the politics of this.

Hi, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Should anyone be surprised that this actually happened? He said it over and over again in the campaign.

DAVIS: Exactly, no. It's not a surprise because this is something that the president said he wanted to do. But there was an element of suspense to the decision, partly because the White House was very upfront about the fact that the president was making up his mind over the last week. And it was seen as sort of a battle inside the White House between the globalists, people like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, his daughter Ivanka, his son-in-law Jared Kushner...

MARTIN: They were all in the...

DAVIS: ...Who were advocating to stay camp...

MARTIN: ...Stay camp.

DAVIS: ...And the isolationists, or the nationalists, people like Steve Bannon and Steve Miller, who were advocating for the president to pull out. And ultimately, in the end, the isolationists won.

MARTIN: It was interesting. In his speech, the president really used it as a moment to bolster his own cred in terms of reviving the American economy. He did that in his speech. And then afterwards, he brought up the EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, to do more of that, which is kind of unusual. This was very much about appealing to his base.

DAVIS: Absolutely. And, you know, the president likes to put on a show. And so the Rose Garden ceremony, sort of the theatrics around it - the speech at times talked about things that didn't even involve climate change or the Paris Agreement - was sort of very typical for the White House.

MARTIN: Why did this happen now? I mean, he was - the president was in Europe last week. He could have done it then - although I guess that would have been awkward, to say we're out of here.

DAVIS: Well, at the NATO summit, he was pressured by NATO leaders to say at the time, please commit to us that you're going to stay in the Paris Agreement. He would not commit to them. So the pressure was sort of on after that trip to say, well, what are you going to do? This is - in a broader point, this is maybe one more stress point in the traditional U.S.-NATO European alliance. It is worth noting that new French president Macron tweeted after the president made his decision, in English, quote, "make our planet great again." Obviously, a nudge at the president and an opposition to his decision.

MARTIN: Also interesting in that speech, there was an element of we don't want to be embarrassed. We don't want to be shamed. He used that kind of language, President Trump did. He didn't want people to mock America for being part of the agreement. Let's listen to a clip here.


TRUMP: We don't want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore, and they won't be. They won't be.

MARTIN: Obviously, that goes over well with his supporters. How does it go over with mainstream Republicans on the Hill?

DAVIS: Well, the base will love it. I mean, there's a reason that President Obama never sent the Paris Agreement to the Senate to be ratified - because it didn't have the votes in Congress. The people to look for, though, are Republicans in swing, suburban districts, places where the issue is popular. And a lot of Republicans yesterday said they did not support the decision.

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis - thanks so much, Sue.

DAVIS: You bet.

MARTIN: So in his speech, the president did make a number of assertions.

GREEN: Yeah. If you were watching and listening to it, I mean, there were a lot of numbers, a lot of statistics, a lot of assertions. And quite a few caught our ear, including this one.


TRUMP: Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two tenths of one degree - think of that, this much - Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100 - tiny, tiny amount. In fact, 14 days of carbon emissions from China alone would wipe out the gains from America.

MARTIN: Lots to unpack in there.

GREEN: Yeah.

MARTIN: And to help us do that, science correspondent Christopher Joyce is in the studio. Hi, Chris.


MARTIN: I'm well. We heard a lot in that clip just then, essentially the president saying tiny, tiny amount...


MARTIN: ...That this would actually impact.

JOYCE: This is the numbers part of the conversation.

MARTIN: Yeah, tiny.

JOYCE: Oh, fun, fun, fun.

MARTIN: So just in that clip, walk us through what we heard there.

JOYCE: Well, I think that number comes from a study by MIT. And indeed, that's what the - that's the result they came up with. Scientists tend not to rely on a single research analysis because, you know, you're talking about predicting the future, which is rather difficult. And I've seen other estimates that put it at 0.8, another one even more than that. And when you're talking about trying to stop the world's temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius...

MARTIN: Yeah. It doesn't sound like a lot.

JOYCE: It doesn't sound like a lot. So 0.2, actually, is not nothing. And point - so let's put the difference, even 0.5 or 0.6. If your aim is to stop the increase at 2 degrees, 0.5 is a lot. So it's not that insignificant. And for - and one other point is that the commitments in Paris are supposed to ratchet up every five years, so it will get tougher and tougher. So those numbers would shift.

MARTIN: Let's listen to another assertion the president made yesterday. Here's this clip.


TRUMP: As The Wall Street Journal wrote this morning, the reality is that withdrawing is in America's economic interest and won't matter much to the climate.

MARTIN: Is that true?

JOYCE: There's a little truth in that in the fact that emissions in the United States have already come down without the Paris Agreement. We're at 12 percent below the emissions level in 2005 already. And I've seen estimates saying that, over the next three or four years, we could be 17 percent below what we were. And this is without the Paris Agreement, without any special effort. After 2020, though, things start to shift. Our emissions will flatline, and it could get a lot worse, especially if the rest of the world starts to back out of this.

MARTIN: So this is all about the future, I mean, which is what he's kind of pedaling in. Like, he's about the now and not about looking...

JOYCE: Right. This is a long-term process.

MARTIN: One last thing - the president took umbrage with part of the deal - this is the Green Climate Fund - money he said was, quote, "simply a transfer of wealth from us to them."

JOYCE: Right. And it's $100 billion by 2020. However, half of that is supposed to come from the private sector, something he didn't mention.

MARTIN: Money that's supposed to go to developing countries.

JOYCE: Right. And it's not necessarily coming from the taxpayer.

MARTIN: Science correspondent Christopher Joyce - thanks so much, Chris. We appreciate it.

JOYCE: My pleasure.

MARTIN: The response from world leaders has exposed something of a divide here.

GREEN: Yeah, Rachel, Sue Davis mentioned the reaction from France's president Emmanuel Macron, who decided to play with one of President Trump's favorite phrases. Just after midnight Paris time, he took to the airwaves and had this response.


PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: We all share the same responsibility, to the make our planet great again.

GREEN: And Macron was not alone. Leaders of Germany and Italy said the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated; that is something that President Trump suggested in his speech. And today, the European Union put out this joint statement underscoring their support for this accord.

MARTIN: So China is currently the world's No. 1 emitter of greenhouse gases. And NPR's Rob Schmitz has been reporting from China for years. He joins us now, actually from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. But Rob...

GREEN: Nice spot to be, Rob (laughter). That's nice.

MARTIN: (laughter) Tough work.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Tough assignment.

MARTIN: But tell us where the U.S. withdrawal from Paris leaves China.

SCHMITZ: Well, I think, you know, China - China could go one of two ways. Some environmental lawyers I've spoken to are worried that Trump stepping back from climate action will make China's leaders not really want to be out there by themselves. You know, this accord was brokered in large part by the U.S. and China. And the thinking goes that China may eventually back away from these commitments.

But what's starting to seem more likely is that China is teaming up with the EU to lead the world in climate measures. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is now in Europe, where he's vowed that China will honor its commitments under the Paris Accord and work with the EU on several measures to deepen a joint cooperation on climate protection. So with the U.S. stepping away...

MARTIN: Which is what a lot of critics said - right? - that there was going to create...

SCHMITZ: Exactly.

MARTIN: ...A leadership vacuum that China would fill.

SCHMITZ: And China is very eager to do that.

MARTIN: We mentioned you're in Australia awaiting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis.


MARTIN: They're heading there. Is this - this is a trip they had planned in advance. But...


MARTIN: ...Is the Paris Accord likely to come up?

SCHMITZ: Oh, I'm sure it will be. I mean, you know, Australians are very concerned about this. It's been all over the news here in Australia. Australia's alliance with the U.S. has always been very strong. But, you know, loyalties are starting to shift here too. You know, the country relies increasingly on China for its economic growth. And with Trump pulling out of the accord, Australians now have another reason to build a stronger relationship with China, just like the EU seems to be doing.

MARTIN: You've been reporting on the Great Barrier Reef. When you talked to scientists there, were they concerned about the possibility of the U.S. pulling out of the accord?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, they were. You know, the northern section of the reef has lost two thirds of its coral in the past year and a half due to global warming, and I saw a lot of that dead coral on dives with scientists. It's a devastating scene. But I had an interesting talk with Terry Hughes. He's one of the leading scientists on the reef, and he told me, Trump's pulling out of the Paris Accord won't be as big of a deal as many people think, and here's why.

TERRY HUGHES: The states, in many cases, are being more proactive on climate change than the federal government is. Similarly, cities are now setting zero-carbon targets. And individuals and households are also doing their bit. So in some senses, President Trump is not as relevant as he might like to be.

MARTIN: So cities and states taking more control. NPR's Rob Schmitz in Sydney - thanks so much for talking with us this morning, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thanks a lot, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
Christopher Joyce is a correspondent on the science desk at NPR. His stories can be heard on all of NPR's news programs, including NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
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