Climate crisis scientist Michael Mann talks about how the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement will have an enormous impact on climate change, even though he says the agreement was quite bad to begin with
GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.
On Monday, the Trump administration gave formal notice to the UN that the United States is withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, beginning a year long process of exiting it. The United States would then be the only UN member country in the world that is no longer part of the agreement. The Paris agreement is a non-binding international accord made in 2015 in which 187 nations agreed to undertake ambitious efforts to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels. The United States is the world’s largest economy, the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China, and historically has admitted more greenhouse gases than any other country in the world.
Joining me now to explore the implications of the US departure from the Paris Climate Agreement is Michael Mann, is distinguished professor and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State university and author of the book The Hockey Stick and The Climate Wars. Thanks for joining us again, Michael.
MICHAEL MANN: Well, thank you, Greg. It’s good to be with you
GREG WILPERT: Now, the effects of the climate crisis are already wreaking havoc globally. This week, a European Union scientific body found that this was the hottest October ever documented. Then in a report released on Tuesday in the journal Bio-science, 11,000 researchers warned of untold suffering that the crisis will cause if we don’t make big changes. Will the withdrawal of the largest economy in the world from the Paris Agreement make these changes worse, Michael?
MICHAEL MANN: Well, undoubtedly, they will. And it is indeed tragic, as you allude to, at a time when we’re literally seeing the devastating impacts of climate change playing out in real time, the wildfires that we’ve seen on the West Coast and calamities around the planet that are arising now because of the effects of global climate change. It’s rather ironic that at this particularly critical moment in time, we have, as you alluded to, the largest historic polluter, the United States has admitted more carbon pollution into the atmosphere than any other country. And to have the United States threatened and indeed begin to implement the pullout from the Paris Agreement, sends exactly the wrong message to the rest of the world.
Now, if you look at the United States alone, there’s a good chance that we actually are able to meet our Paris commitments just based on what’s happening at the state level, the local level, what companies are doing. There’s enough sort of progress being made at the grass root level and at the state level that will probably still meet our commitments. The real problem is that by pulling out of the Paris Accord, by doing everything he can to undo the legacy of the past administration when it comes to climate progress–which means getting rid of the clean power plan that controls carbon emissions from coal fired power plants; getting rid of the fuel efficiency standards that have helped us meet our commitments of lowering greenhouse gases in the transportation sector. All of those things obviously make it worse and it prevents us from going beyond our Paris commitments because just meeting our Paris commitments alone is not going to get us to where we need to be.
In fact, the Paris Agreement only gets us about halfway globally to the carbon reductions we need to avert catastrophic warming of the planet, of two degrees Celsius or more, 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit or more. So that’s the direct effect. The indirect effect of course is that it sends the wrong message to other major players, in particular, China and India. China is the largest emitter of carbon pollution today. And by signaling a pullout from the Paris Accord, it takes off the pressure, it takes the pressure off of China to meet its commitments. And in fact, before Trump entered the picture, China was going beyond their commitments. They were actually decommissioning coal fired power plants and carbon emissions globally had leveled off, the first step in actually bringing them down, which is what we need to do.
Well, with the actions of the Trump administration and the fact that those actions have taken away pressure from other emitters like China for meeting their commitments, we’ve actually seen China now begin to build more coal fired power plants, their carbon emissions have gone back up and we have seen global carbon emissions now begin to tick back up because of that. That’s the indirect and real harm of Trump’s pullout, he’s threatened and now actually occurring, taking place, pull out from the Paris Agreement.
GREG WILPERT: Now, this is of course, something that you’ve looked into quite detail is, who is the Trump administration actually responding to? Of course, they have deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, we know that to the Koch brothers and Mercer’s. Can you just explain some of those connections and how they stand to benefit?
MICHAEL MANN: Yeah, so just as you say, this isn’t really about Trump and his opinions. It’s about the special interest that he has outsourced his administration to, when it comes to energy and climate policy. And as you know, it’s the Koch brothers and it’s polluting interests like ExxonMobil, who are basically now in charge of climate and energy policy within the Trump administration. And they have used that influence to literally dismantle the environmental protection, not just in the last administration, the Obama administration, but environmental protections that were put in place by the Nixon administration, by the Reagan administration, by the two Bush administrations.It’s really remarkable what we’re seeing. It’s unprecedented.
If there’s a silver lining in this, if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, it turns out that Trump can’t actually make good on this threat if he doesn’t win re-election because of the grandfathering of the Paris Agreement. If he doesn’t get a second term, he will not be able to pull out of the Paris Agreement. And that really means that it enables us by voting, by making sure that we turn out in the next presidential election, we can ensure that we take a different path, not the path that Trump and his fossil fuel industry supporters would have us take, a path down and ever worsening sort of commitment to fossil fuel burning and catastrophic climate change, but a better path, a path where we not only meet our obligations, but we actually take a leadership role, again when it comes to the global effort to avert catastrophic climate change.
GREG WILPERT: But as you already mentioned, the Trump administration has already started to withdraw from many of the commitments and policies that are in place. And as matter of fact, according to some estimates of the United States is already producing more greenhouse gases than it did in 2017. I’m just wondering now, if there are a different president elected on November 3rd, which coincidentally is just one day after, I think, that the USA is withdrawing from the climate agreement officially. Now, if the United States were to rejoin after that election, presumably in January of 2021, would a democratic president still be able to make a difference for the agreement and to actually make a difference in terms of the impact it has on climate change?
MICHAEL MANN: Yeah. Well, it’s a great question and we have to sort of look at this philosophically. The Paris Agreement really is a voluntary agreement. Each country was allowed to set its own goals. And the enforcement mechanism is what the UN calls name and shame. Those countries that aren’t keeping up their end of the bargain are rightfully pilloried for not doing. What that means in fact is that the so-called pullout from Paris is really symbolic.
What matters are the commitments that we make in terms of our national policy; executive policies under the White House Congressional policies. If we can get them in the next Congress, we can actually get action on climate. What States are doing, again, what localities are doing. So what really matters isn’t the formality of whether we’re technically in or not in the Paris Agreement, it’s what we’re actually doing to meet those obligations. And the next president will absolutely have an opportunity, ideally working with Congress, to actually move forward on this problem.
GREG WILPERT: Okay, well we’re going to leave it there for now. Of course, we continue to cover this as we always do. I was speaking to Michael Mann, distinguished professor and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University. Thanks again, Michael, for having joined us today.
MICHAEL MANN: Thank you. It was my pleasure
GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.
URUJ SHEIKH: Hey everyone. My name is Uruj Sheikh and I’m the development campaign manager at The Real News Network. If we’re going to stand up to the corporate elites, then we need your help to make people powered media. And that’s why I’m asking you to please donate to The Real News Network, and while you’re at it, hit the subscribe button. Thanks so much.