Data-Debunking Trump’s Paris Agreement Claims

[Disclaimer: the visuals used in this post were made using OurWorldInData‘s grapher tool. I would like to thank Max and the team for allowing me to use them in my own writings. OurWorldInData is a web publication which presents interactive visualisations of development and how the world is changing, and well worth exploring. You can interact, engage and explore all of the data visualisations used in this post by clicking on the image]

Donald Trump recently announced that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris Accord- the international treaty signed to address global climate change. The White House have released his statement on the Paris Climate Accord, available here. In this statement, Trump made a number of bold claims about the relative fairness, economic impact and share of responsibility. In truth, the real figures prove many of his statements to be factually incorrect. In this blog post, I have looked at the real data behind Trumps’ key claims (which are quoted in bold).

Before we pick through Trump’s statement, it’s worth giving a quick outline of the Paris Agreement process. The Paris Agreement took a different approach from prior climate negotiations (such as the Kyoto Protocol). Prior to the agreement, countries were asked to submit their so-called “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” (INDC). This INDC process essentially asked countries to decide and pledge their own commitment to what they thought they could achieve over the medium and long-term in terms of greenhouse gas emissions reductions. It gave countries autonomy for their own targets. This was a stark contrast to previous negotiations where expected contributions from developed countries were decided for them.

“The United States will cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country. This includes ending the implementation of the nationally determined contribution and, very importantly, the Green Climate Fund which is costing the United States a vast fortune.”

There are two economic impacts we have to look at here. The first is economic investment that countries have to contribute to meet their respective climate targets (or “nationally determined contribution”). This is essentially the economic cost of investing in a transition to low-carbon technologies (such as renewable energy). In the chart below, we have mapped global investment in renewable technologies through time, aggregated by region or country. In 2015, the US accounted for 15 percent of global investments. In comparison, China accounted for 36 percent- about the same as the US, Europe and India combined.

However, comparing investments in absolute terms doesn’t tell the complete story. It skews focus towards larger economies; we might expect that large economies will also invest more. If we are comparing countries in terms of who is contributing their ‘share’, perhaps a more appropriate comparison is to normalise these figures as the percentage of a country’s gross domestic product (GDP). In the second chart below, we have presented 2015 renewable investments as a percentage of a country’s GDP. The United States invested only 0.1 percent- nine times less than China, and five times less than India. This is not exactly a “draconian financial and economic burden”.



advanced economies have formally agreed to jointly mobilize USD 100 billion per year by 2020, from a variety of sources, to address the pressing mitigation and adaptation needs of developing countries. The other financial cost to the United States is its contribution to the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The Green Climate Fund was set up as a financial mechanism to support developing countries, for both mitigation (for example, supporting investment mechanisms for clean energy) and adaptation (developing countries are likely to be disproportionately affected by negative climate change impacts). Advanced economies have formally agreed to jointly invest 100 billion USD per year by 2020 to the GCF.

To date (2017), only 10 billion USD have been pledged, only one-tenth of the amount which is to be mobilised by 2020 (so you can see why grievances within the GCF might lie with developing, rather than developed countries). The United States have pledged they will contribute three billion to the fund (although to date have only mobilised one billion). In the chart below, we have shown the relative GCF pledges across advanced economies, normalised to the amount pledged per capita of the donor country. The US has pledged 9.41 US$ per capita. Sorted in order of per capita contribution, the United States comes in 11th place; very low for the world’s largest economy. By my calculations, if the US contributed its 3 billion US$ to the fund, this would amount to 0.02% of its GDP.[ref]According to World Bank figures, the USA’s GDP in 2015 was 17.95 trillion USD. 3 billion USD as a percentage of its GDP is approximately 0.02%. World Bank figures available online.[/ref] Not exactly the “vast fortune” Trump claims it to be.


“China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants.  So we can’t build the plants, but they can, according to this agreement.”

It is true that within the Paris Agreement, China has not set a specific date or greenhouse gas reduction target. Instead, like India, it has set a carbon intensity target. Carbon intensity measures the amount of carbon dioxide emitted to produce one unit of GDP. In committing to reducing carbon intensity, both China and India pledged to grow their economies, but in a more carbon-efficient way.

So, technically speaking, neither countries have specific restrictions on coal production. Will China be building hundreds of additional coal plants? First, remember back to our initial charts on renewables investment: China invests more in renewable energy than North America, Europe and India combined. As a percentage of its GDP, it invests nine times more than the United States. China has strongly committed to an infrastructural transition to a lower-carbon economy.

China’s coal consumption has grown rapidly in recent decades. In the chart below we have plotted its annual coal consumption and production trends from 1965-2015. As we see- and it is a trend that has surprised many- that China’s coal consumption appears to have peaked back in 2013. In the past three years, its consumption has continued to drop. This had such a large impact on global coal projections that the International Energy Agency (IEA) more than halved its predictions for global coal consumption in 2040 in its 2016 World Energy Outlook 2016 Report.

In fact, despite not having a bound commitment within the Paris agreement, China has outlined a mandatory reduction target in its 13th five-year-plan (2016-2020). It has pledged to produce no more than 58 percent of its total energy consumption from coal- a six percent reduction on coal’s share in 2015.


“India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020.  Think of it:  India can double their coal production.”

Like China, India has not committed to an absolute greenhouse gas cap or reduction target within the Paris agreement. Instead, it has set a carbon intensity target to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. With the highest absolute number of people living in extreme poverty, and around one-fifth as a share of the total population, economic growth and poverty alleviation is an obvious priority for India. It has therefore committed to continuing development, but in an increasingly lower-carbon way.

It’s true that India will increase its coal production in the coming years. There are two points to note on this. Firstly, although India will increase its coal production from today’s levels, it continues to show strong commitment to low-carbon growth. Relative to its GDP, India invests five times as much as the United States in renewables. At the end of 2016 it raised its ambition to produce 57 percent of electricity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2027 (in the Paris agreement, it set a target of 40 percent by 2030). Last month India responded to falling solar prices by cancelling 14 gigawatts (GW) of planned coal installations.

The second point refers to the large inequalities with exist between the United States’ and India’s CO2 contribution. In the map below we have plotted the average per capita CO2 emissions by country. In 2014 India’s per capita emissions were less than two tonnes; the USA’s more than sixteen tonnes (more than eight times as much). Whilst Trump talks about doubling coal production by 2020, the truth is that India’s per capita contribution would still be multiples lower than that of the United States. Note that whilst Trump has singled out India here, the same applies for many of the world’s low to middle-income countries.

In the second chart below we have plotted the hypothetical global CO2 emissions if everyone in the world adopted the per capita emissions of a given country. If everyone in the world had the same footprint as the average Indian, global emissions would be about one-third of actual levels in 2014. In contrast, if everyone lived like the average US citizen, global emissions would be more than three times higher than they are currently.


“I cannot in good conscience support a deal that punishes the United States — which is what it does -– the world’s leader in environmental protection, while imposing no meaningful obligations on the world’s leading polluters.”

There is no metric related to greenhouse gas emissions whereby the United States is not a leading polluter (or is a world leader in environmental protection). As we have shown above in terms of per capita CO2 emissions, the United States is one of the world’s highest (representing large global inequalities, even relative to other high-income economies).

If we look at historical responsibility for CO2 emissions (the amount of CO2 which has cumulatively been emitted over time), the United States is the world’s largest contributor (even when European Union countries are counted collectively). The USA has more than double the cumulative emissions of China. Cumulative emissions are shown in the chart below (you can press ‘play’ to see this change through time).

However, even if we forget about historical responsibility and focus only on current levels of emissions, the USA is the world’s second largest national emitter. Total annual emissions across the world are shown in the second map below. The United States is second only to China, accounting for around 15 percent of global emissions.

As we have discussed above- many of the world’s other leading polluters (even on a national, not per capita basis) such as China and India are showing even greater ambition and commitment than their obligations state within the Paris agreement.



“In short, the agreement doesn’t eliminate coal jobs, it just transfers those jobs out of America and the United States, and ships them to foreign countries.”

Trump may be worried about a decline in jobs with the fossil fuel industry, but the USA has seen dramatic growth in employment in the renewables industry in recent years. Employment within the solar and wind energy industry is reported to be growing at 12 times the rate of the USA’s economy, with jobs in these industries sustainaing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 6% since 2012.

However, this mention of trade and transfer raises another important point which actually works to the USA’s advantage within the Paris agreement: the issue of embedded emissions. National accounts and targets within the Paris agreement are reported based on CO2 production emissions. This accounting method is also sometimes referred to as “territorial-based” emissions because it reports emissions as those emitted within a country’s given geographical boundaries. As a result, this method takes no account of emissions which may be imported or exported in the form of traded goods. “Consumption-based” accounting adjusts CO2 emissions for this trade of emissions and more accurately reflects the emissions necessary to support a given country’s way of living.

What does a global map of traded CO2 emissions look like? Below we see emissions embedded in trade in 2004 (in million tonnes per year); the thickness of the arrow is representative of the size of traded CO2. This shows an important East-to-West relation, with large exports from Asia and Eastern Europe into Western Europe and North America.

In other words: some of the CO2 produced (and reported) in emission records of Asian and Eastern European countries is for the production of goods consumed in Western Europe and North America. A study conducted by Davis and Caldeira in 2010 estimated that if we switched to a consumption-based reporting system (which corrects for this trade), the annual CO2 emissions of the US would increase by 10% and China’s emissions would decrease by 22%.

In other words, from a CO2 perspective, developing countries are not only held responsible for their own emissions, but also have to account for the emissions embedded in goods sold to the United States and other high-income countries. If we accounted for this fact, global inequalities in emissions would be even greater.

CO2 emission flows from embedded carbon in global trade (Davis and Caldeira, 2010)


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