Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.
Within hours of President Donald Trump’s announcement that he intends to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement and negotiate a better deal, other world leaders made it clear that renegotiation is not an option. But right-wing media and the administration are continuing to push the fanciful notion that Trump can negotiate a more favorable pact.
Trump claims Paris was a bad deal and he can get a better one
[T]he United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord … but but begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or an — really entirely new transaction, on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers. So we’re getting out, but we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.
The White House talking points about the decision stress the idea that the Paris accord was a bad deal for the U.S. — bad in all caps, lest you miss the point:
The Paris Accord is a BAD deal for Americans. … The deal was negotiated BADLY.
Right-wing media push bad-deal/good-deal frame
This frame — that Paris is a bad deal and Trump can get a good deal — had been pushed by right-wing media in the days leading up to his decision, and the claim continued to make the rounds after the announcement was made, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
On May 30, David Bossie — a former deputy campaign manager for Trump and a Fox News contributor who is being considered for a role in the White House — went on Fox News Radio and called for the Trump administration to renegotiate the Paris deal:
My recommendation is: You get out of Paris, you get out of the Paris treaty, you get out right now, and then you let Scott Pruitt, your EPA administrator, who is very good and a great negotiator, go out and negotiate new deals, deals that are good for America and the rest of the world combined.
On June 1, before Trump made his announcement, Stuart Varney of Fox Business’ Varney & Co. argued that former President Obama did a terrible job negotiating the Paris deal and Trump could do much better:
The Obama team gave virtually everything away — our money and our jobs — and received only vague promises of future good behavior. In my opinion, it was a lousy deal. So maybe our president will do the same as he did with NAFTA — that is, threaten to withdraw, then negotiate a better deal. … He did, after all, write the book The Art of the Deal.
And Fox Business tweeted out the point too:
— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) June 1, 2017
During Trump’s speech, Breitbart’s Curt Schilling tweeted out his approval of the president’s plan to renegotiate the deal:
— Curt Schilling (@gehrig38) June 1, 2017
Nobody wants to renegotiate with the U.S.
But other world leaders are not interested in sitting down at the table with the U.S. again, as they quickly made clear.
Shortly after Trump’s announcement, the leaders of France, Italy, and Germany issued a joint statementrefuting the notion that the Paris deal is up for renegotiation:
We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated, since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies.
And a group of ministers from 24 nations — known as the High Ambition Coalition, which pushed to make the Paris agreement as strong as possible — also threw cold water on the idea of renegotiating:
Our commitment to the Paris Agreement is unshakeable. We have every reason to fight for its full implementation.
“Apparently the White House has no understanding of how an international treaty works,” said Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), who led the negotiation process leading up to the Paris agreement. “There is no such thing as withdrawing and then negotiating.”
And the current secretariat of the UNFCCC also put out a statement saying that the agreement “cannot be renegotiated based on the request of a single Party.”
Bloomberg summed up the situation in headline: “Everyone But Donald Trump Is Standing By the Paris Climate Agreement.”
Right-wing media still insist Trump can negotiate a better deal
Even after world leaders made their opposition to renegotiation crystal clear, right-wing media continued to push the myth that the president could get a new and improved deal.
“One of the [things] I’m looking forward to, and I’ve seen some of: Donald Trump’s ability to renegotiate a better deal and better positioning for the United States of America,” said Eboni Williams, a co-host of The Fox News Specialists, on June 2.
“If the Paris accord was actually meant to save the environment, the globalists would be happy to renegotiate the deal with President Trump,” wrote Kit Daniels at Infowars on June 3.
Administration officials also went on Fox News to keep pushing the “better deal” idea.
Vice President Mike Pence said on Fox & Friends on June 2, “You also heard [Trump] leave the door open to renegotiating a better arrangement, to maybe re-entering the Paris accord under new terms and new conditions. … In withdrawing from the Paris accord, and in offering to renegotiate it in a way that is more fair, more equitable to our economy and every economy in the world, again you see President Donald Trump is being leader of the free world.” Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt did not push back on that assertion.
And Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke went on Fox News’ America’s Newsroom on June 2 to defend Trump’s move: “It was a bad deal. I think the president has said he’s going to renegotiate it, offer to renegotiate it. … If we’re going to sit down, let’s make sure the agreement has shared burden.” Fox host Bill Hemmer neglected to point out that other countries have said they will not sit down to renegotiate the deal with the Trump administration.
Informed commentators mock renegotiation claims
New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza, speaking on The New Yorker‘s “Politics and More” podcast on June 2, slapped down the renegotiation idea: “When Trump says, ‘I’m going to negotiate a better deal,’ well that’s a lie, that’s just not possible.”
Former Secretary of State John Kerry, who played a key role in negotiating the Paris agreement, was even more forceful on this point during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press on June 4:
When Donald Trump says, well, we’re going to negotiate a better deal, you know, he’s going to go out and find a better deal? That’s like O.J. Simpson saying he’s going to go out and find the real killer. Everybody knows he isn’t going to do that.
The U.S. already had a favorable deal
Even if other countries were willing to sit back down at the table, it’s highly unlikely the U.S. would get a better deal. That’s because the U.S. already got a favorable deal when the Paris agreement was negotiated in 2015.
The Paris deal “is more fair to the U.S. than previous agreements because it includes all the major economies of the world, not just the rich countries, so both developed countries and developing countries have skin in the game,” Jody Freeman, director of Harvard Law School’s Environmental Law and Policy Program, told The Washington Post after Trump made his announcement.
“Paris already gives countries tremendous flexibility, and no penalties,” Michael Gerrard, a professor of environmental law at Columbia and director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told the Post.
The Obama administration had wanted to take part in the agreement, but it knew that a climate treaty couldn’t get ratified by the U.S. Senate. So the entire global community bent over backward to accommodate the U.S. political system — crafting a nonbinding accord that’s looser than a treaty and making action pledges voluntary with no enforcement mechanisms.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said before the negotiations that a good agreement would be “binding,” but she and other like-minded leaders gave in to the U.S. on this point.
As The Guardian reported just after the Paris negotiations took place in December 2015, “Under US insistence, the 31-page agreement was explicitly crafted to exclude emissions reductions targets and finance from the legally binding parts of the deal. … The other exclusion zone was any clause in the agreement that would expose the US to liability and compensation claims for causing climate change.”
Ultimately, many world leaders and climate advocates thought the U.S. got too good of deal — so good that the resulting agreement was disappointingly weak.
From The Guardian: “The US – and European – position was a huge disappointment for the low-lying and small island states, which argued they needed recognition that their countries could pay the ultimate price for climate change in terms of land loss and migration.”
“The United States has hindered ambition,” Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth U.S., said in December 2015. “Using the world’s atmosphere and the suffering of the vulnerable as a guide, the United States is failing — by a long shot — to do what climate science and justice demand. This holds true for the United States’ greenhouse gas reduction pledge, its provision of funds for developing countries to take climate action and its obstruction of progress on loss and damage.”
Despite the United States’ successful effort to water down the Paris agreement, other countries, both rich and poor, still stepped up to the plate with meaningful action pledges. As The Economist noted just after Trump made his announcement, “All [of the Paris agreement’s] signatories—which is to say, every country except Syria, Nicaragua and now America—have undertaken to reduce emissions against business-as-usual targets.” This despite the fact that many of those countries have contributed very little to the problem of climate change, while the U.S. is the biggest carbon polluter in history, as The New York Times pointed out.
So now other countries are moving forward without the U.S. The Europeans are planning to work more closely with China and India. The leaders of France and India have announced that they’re going to cooperate jointly on fighting climate change. Instead of getting a better deal, the U.S. is cut out of the dealmaking.