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Did Macron Just Convince Trump To Reenter The Paris Agreement?

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

The friendship between the United States and France goes way back—all the way to 1775, when France secretly began sending supplies to the Americans during the Revolutionary War. In fact, France was the first ally of the new United States. (Of course, it helped that France was pretty angry at Great Britain over the territory it lost during the French and Indian War.)

Now, almost 250 years later, President Trump has ruffled some French feathers by pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement, signed by nearly 200 nations to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. But newly minted French president Emmanuel Macron wasn’t about to let Trump’s pullout ruin a good friendship—something that was made abundantly clear when the two leaders met in Paris last week.

By many accounts, Macron is a true optimist. Perhaps his youth has something to do with his lack of negativity; at 39, he is France’s youngest leader since Napoleon, and the first to be born after 1958. His predecessor and former boss Francois Hollande said Macron “radiated joy” when he worked for him, an odd statement considering Hollande’s dour disposition. (The Telegraph’s William Langley once called the ex-president “a politician with the personality of bread mold.”)

“An almost preternaturally sunny demeanour, combined with his winning way with words, has been the new president’s magic formula,” writes Hugh Schofield, the Paris correspondent for BBC News. He also noted that Macron’s “resplendent” personality was going to be “tested like never before.”

Well, Macron may have just aced the Trump test. And he did it by launching a charm offensive that allowed him not only to forcefully address their main point of contention—Trump’s controversial withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement—but to get Trump to soften his climate stance, something no other politician, American or otherwise, has yet accomplished.

In a Sunday interview with the French newspaper Journal du Dimanche, Macron said he pressed Trump on the possibility of bringing America back into the agreement.

Donald Trump listened to me,” Macron said, according to AP. “He understood the reason for my position, notably the link between climate change and terrorism.” The French president added: “He said he would try to find a solution in the coming months. We spoke in detail about what could allow him to return to the Paris deal.”

During a joint news conference after the meeting, Trump said “something could happen with respect to the Paris accord…We’ll see what happens. But we’ll talk about that in the coming period of time. If it happens, that will be wonderful. If it doesn’t, that’s okay, too.”

Perhaps France—and for that matter, Europe—has found a “Trump whisperer” in Macron, who also said during his interview Sunday that he believes Trump left the country with a “better image of France than upon his arrival.” (Angela Merkel, take note.)

“Our countries are friends, so we should be too,” Macron said, adding his belief that after their meeting, the two leaders gained a “better, intimate knowledge of each other.”

When they met, Trump and Macron shared a seemingly neverending handshake. Hopefully, they’ll soon be shaking hands to celebrate America’s reentry to the Paris agreement. To Monsieur Macron, we say, Bonne chance!

Watch Trump and Macron’s epic handshake:

Reynard Loki is AlterNet’s environment and food editor. Follow him on Twitter @reynardloki. Email him at reynard@alternet.org.

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

5 Key Climate Takeaways From The Rex Tillerson Confirmation Hearing

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.

Secretary of state nominee and former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 11. Tillerson is already under fire for making the seemingly false claim that Exxon has not lobbied against sanctions on Russia and other nations that would affect Exxon’s business dealings, but here are five other climate change-related takeaways that reporters should keep in mind in their coverage of the hearing and Tillerson nomination going forward.

1. Tillerson distorted climate change science … again.

As researchers at Harvard and MIT have documented, Tillerson has falsely claimed in the past that the temperature record “really hadn’t changed” over the previous decade and repeatedly made scientifically inaccurate claims “seeking to sow doubt about the reliability of climate models.”

Tillerson again wrongly cast doubt on climate models during the confirmation hearing. When asked by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) whether climate change is caused by human activities, Tillerson replied that the “increase in the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are having an effect,” but that “our ability to predict that effect is very limited.”

In reality, “climate models have proven themselves reliable in predicting long-term global surface temperature changes,” as The Guardian’s Dana Nuccitelli has noted. Indeed, in remarks to Mashable responding to Tillerson’s comments, Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann similarly said, “Climate models have proven extremely skillful in predicting the warming that has already been observed.” And David Titley, the former head of the Navy’s climate change task force, explained, “The ability of climate scientists to predict the future is significantly more skillful than many other professions (economics, intelligence, political science) who try and predict the future.”

As Texas Tech University climate researcher Katherine Hayhoe told Mashable, climate projections of emissions scenarios are “based on physics and chemistry, the fundamentals of which have been understood” since the 1850s.

2. Tillerson disputed the Pentagon’s determination that climate change is a significant national security threat.

When Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) asked Tillerson whether he sees climate change as a national security threat, Tillerson answered, “I don’t see it as the imminent national security threat that perhaps others do.”

Among the “others” who disagree with Tillerson is the Pentagon, which has called climate change a “security risk” and said that considering the effects of climate change is essential to meeting the Defense Department’s “primary responsibility” to “protect national security interests around the world.” A 2014 Defense Department report similarly stated that climate change “poses immediate risks to U.S. national security,” and a bipartisan group of defense experts and former military leaders recently sent a briefing book to President-elect Donald Trump containing recommendations for addressing these risks.

For its part, the State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy for Climate Change calls climate change a “global threat.”

3. Tillerson refused to discuss the “ExxonKnew” scandal.

Tillerson refused to answer questions from Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) about media investigations documenting that Exxon’s own scientists had confirmed by the early 1980s that fossil fuel pollution was causing climate change, yet Exxon funded organizations that helped manufacture doubt about the causes of climate change for decades afterward. Tillerson declared that he was “in no position to speak on [Exxon’s] behalf,” and that “the question would have to be put to ExxonMobil.” Kaine explained that he wasn’t asking Tillerson to respond on behalf of Exxon, but rather to confirm or deny the accuracy of the allegations against the company, which he ran until the end of December. When Kaine asked Tillerson whether he was unable or unwilling to answer Kaine’s questions, Tillerson replied: “A little of both.”

The media reports on Exxon, published in the fall of 2015 by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times, prompted attorneys general in New York, California, and Massachusetts to each launch investigations of Exxon that are still ongoing. As InsideClimate News noted, “If Tillerson spoke about this under oath at this hearing, it conceivably could complicate matters for lawyers at the company he led.”

4. Tillerson declined to endorse the Paris climate agreement.

Under Tillerson’s leadership, Exxon issued several statements in support of the Paris climate agreement, which committed countries around the world to cutting emissions, with the aim of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees Celsius. However, Tillerson declined to explicitly endorse the Paris agreement during his confirmation hearing.

When initially asked about the agreement by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tillerson did not address the agreement specifically, but he did say that it’s “important that the United States maintain a seat at the table on the conversations around how to address the threats of climate change, which do require a global response.” But when asked about the agreement by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) later in the hearing, Tillerson left open the possibility of renegotiating — or even withdrawing from — the agreement, as InsideClimate News noted:

In case you missed it, Tillerson answered questions about whether the United States would remain in the Paris climate accord in a such a non-committal way that he left open the possibility for the Trump administration to ditch the agreement or pull out of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as some of the President’s team have recommended.

Tillerson suggested that the “America First” motto that Trump ran on would be the main criterion in assessing participation in the global climate accord.

Responding to a question from Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey about staying in the accord, Tillerson said that Trump would conduct a thorough review of global and bilateral accords on climate and that he would make his views known to the new president, who has vowed to ‘cancel’ the agreement and who has most recently called climate change a ‘hoax’ invented by the Chinese to hobble American business. Tillerson did not say what his views or recommendations would be.

Tillerson then continued: “I also know that the president as part of his priority in campaigning was to put America first. So there’s important considerations as we commit to such accords and as those accords are executed over time, are there any elements of that put America at a disadvantage?”

[…]

Markey then asked if it should be a priority of the U.S. to work with other countries to find solutions to that problem.

Tillerson answered: “It’s important for America to remain engaged in those discussions so we are at the table expressing a view and understanding what the impacts may be on the American people and American competitiveness.”

Trump has said that he would “renegotiate” or “cancel” the Paris agreement. He’s also claimed since the election that he has an “open mind” about the agreement, but internal documents from Trump’s transition team “show the new administration plans to stop defending the Clean Power Plan,” which is the linchpin of the United States’ emissions reduction commitments under the Paris agreement.

Some reporters are interpreting Tillerson’s reference to a “seat at the table” as support for the Paris agreement, but his broad phrasing could also apply to seeking to rewrite the terms of the deal — or withdrawing from it altogether. Later in the hearing, Tillerson added that he believes it’s important to have a “seat at the table” in order to “judge the level of commitment of the other 189 or so countries around the table and again adjust our own course accordingly.”

5. Tillerson did not address climate change, oil, or even Exxon itself in his opening remarks.

In their initial coverage of the Tillerson nomination, several major media outlets uncritically portrayed Tillerson as an advocate for action to combat climate change, despite his — and Exxon’s — troubling track record on the issue. But when Tillerson was given the opportunity to outline his vision and priorities for the State Department during his opening statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he did not once mention climate change, lending credence to the contention of Tillerson’s critics that his and Exxon’s professed support for climate action “was all P.R.

Tillerson’s opening statement also neglected to mention oil or even Exxon itself, where Tillerson has worked for the last 41 years. That glaring omission hints at a lack of concern for crucial questions about whether Tillerson’s oil industry experience prepares him to serve as America’s top diplomat, or whether, as The New Yorker’s Steve Coll put it, he will be willing and able to “embrace a vision of America’s place in the world that promotes ideals for their own sake, emphatically privileging national interests over private ones.”

IMAGE: Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. secretary of state in Washington, U.S. January 11, 2017.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

One Last Time: Be Thankful For President Obama

On a holiday when many Americans may feel less thankful as they consider the nation’s future, it is worth recalling again how much we should appreciate the service of Barack Obama. The profound gratitude that we owe him is only underscored by the prospect of the next president, whose name I frankly hesitate to mention on this hallowed occasion. And as he looks forward to leaving the White House, Obama remains keenly focused on how best to serve his country in a moment of unexpected peril.

In Hamilton, the hit Broadway musical that recently delighted the incoming vice president, one of the show-stopping numbers is “One Last Time,” in which George Washington explains why he will step down from the presidency to teach the new America about orderly democratic succession. The spirit of that wonderful song, whose message is essential to our way of life, lives in Obama as he seeks to prepare his woefully unready successor for the rigors of the presidency.

Amazingly, the fact that this individual spent years abusing him with calumnies, lies, and disrespect, in an ugly racist style, has not discouraged Obama from showing him and his family every courtesy – or from attempting to educate him about the gigantic challenges that await him in the Oval Office. Obama’s painstaking efforts to provide a presidential education have been so tactful and so kind as to evoke expressions of astonished praise from the pupil — an uninformed egomaniac who apparently believed, until lately, that he knew everything.

Now that he knows Obama a little, perhaps he is learning a little more about how wrong his assumptions have been about many other matters, from the Affordable Care Act to the Iran nuclear agreement. For the moment, we can only hope.

The president is more popular today than he was at many times during his tenure, presumably because people better understand both his considerable achievements and his innate decency. As we contemplate the coming period of misrule, it is worth reflecting on how much worse our situation might be today if one of Obama’s partisan opponents had been in control of events since January 2009.

For much of that time, a mindlessly negative attitude colored assessments of him and his presidency. More flawed than his most zealous supporters would ever have admitted when he first ran for president, he left many of them disproportionately disappointed. From his first day in office, he never benefited from the “fair chance” or “national unity” that his partisan opponents now demand for his successor. Certainly he made regrettable mistakes in both policy and politics, and suffered declines in public confidence that injured his image and the fortunes of his party. But there will be many reasons to remember him with admiration, and they are sure to loom larger when he is judged against those who follow him.

The undeniable truth is that Obama righted the nation in a moment of deep crisis and set us on a better course, despite bitter obstruction by conservative extremists who were eager to sink us rather than see him succeed.

So we should be forever thankful that Obama was president at the nadir of the Great Recession, rather than a Republican who might have insisted on austerity and rejected the stimulus spending that saved us from economic catastrophe. While not large enough to prevent grave suffering, that spending was sufficient to bring recovery more rapidly than most countries have recovered after a major panic. The proof lies in a record of growth that outpaced every other industrialized country in the world – a record that seems even more impressive because the crash began here, as a consequence of irresponsibility and criminality in American financial markets.

We should also be thankful that Obama – a politician who respects science and knowledge — was president as we began to encounter the frightening reality of climate change. Under his guidance, the federal government has acted against excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, required automakers to double their fuel economy by 2025, ordered agencies to achieve sustainability in operations and purchases, and invested tens of billions in smart electric grids, conservation, and clean fuels. And he — along with Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, among others — brought the United States into the Paris global climate agreement that, with luck, his successor will not attempt to unravel.

We should be thankful, too, that he pushed through the most extensive and generous reform in American health care since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act – which now protects millions of Americans. It is a mark of that legislation’s landmark success that the Republicans, now empowered to repeal it, are promising to preserve many of its important benefits. Whether they can fashion a viable alternative remains to be seen, but it will be instructive to watch them try. Meanwhile health care costs have slowed, Medicare’s solvency has improved, and millions more of the country’s poor and working families are covered by Medicaid, in spite of Republican legislators and governors who would, quite literally, let them and their children die.

Throughout his presidency, Obama has remained admirably cool in the face of vicious attacks that would madden most people — notably including the incoming president. This president has refused to imitate the mindless and often revolting conduct of his adversaries. Not for a moment has he abandoned American values of shared responsibility and prosperity, of cooperation and community, of malice toward none and charity for all.

Those ideals were epitomized by this national holiday’s presidential founders – George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. We will work toward the day when we have another leader who seeks to uphold that legacy.

What’s The Real Significance Of The Paris Agreement?

On Friday, April 22, I watched 175 global leaders convene at the United Nations to confirm their collective commitment to climate action by officially signing the Paris Agreement.

In an attempt to improve implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement sets a goal of preventing global temperatures rising 2℃ or more above pre-industrial levels, with a stretch goal of 1.5℃.

Although the international movement to reduce greenhouse gas emission can be traced back to before the 1992 UN framework and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the possibility of effectively adopting an international agreement seemed extremely unlikely until the talks in Paris at the end of last year.

But what took so long?

Some quick economics and history, to explain: As it stands, businesses determine the price and quantity of the goods they produce based on the intersection of cost and demand. However, without an acknowledgement otherwise, “cost” as typically understood in the business world overlooks the external costs and social consequences of their production — including environmental effects.

If companies actually added these external costs, including potential environmental degradation, to their private costs, then prices would be higher and demand would go down, leading to widespread corporate losses. The ever-present need to supply an increasingly globalized world cheap goods forces companies to choose between harming the environment or harming their businesses — and, for them, the answer was pretty clear.

Throughout the 20th century, the belief that all nations were in direct competition with one another limited the potential for large-scale global cooperation on this front, as evidenced by the failures of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 and the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

But as the destructive power of global warming became increasingly clear, so too did the international consensus that something must be done about it.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change brought together 192 countries in an effort to balance these two competing needs: addressing atmospheric greenhouse gas levels and encouraging domestic economic growth.

Yet, although 197 countries and territories ratified the UNFCCC, the treaty was non-binding and therefore unenforceable.

In 1997, the international community convened again in Rio de Janiero to extend the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change by ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. Unlike its predecessor, which simply recommended that advanced industrialized nations reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, the Kyoto Protocol required nations to actually keep their promises by actively committing to the UN’s targets.

Since the United Nations believed that the industrialized nations were the primary perpetrators of greenhouse gas pollution, the Kyoto Protocol instituted “common but differentiated responsibilities” — the idea that developed countries can do more to change (and, just as meaningfully, have contributed more to) global emissions levels, and therefore should be responsible for changing their own behavior more. The Kyoto Protocol legally bound 37 industrialized countries and the European Union to international emission reduction and exempted developing nations from the first commitment period.

Unfortunately, the Kyoto Protocol’s dichotomous expectations led many nations to withdraw from the discussions because they believed that some nations were unfairly exempt.

In 2001, the Bush Administration rejected the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol because it exempted countries like China, among others. Canada, Russia, and Japan followed suit by withdrawing from the second round of commitments and pursuing their own unilateral economic interests.

Unlike its predecessor, the Paris Agreement requires every country to adopt domestic-level policies based on their proposed “Intended Nationally Submitted Contributions” (INDCs) in order reach the 1.5 degree goal. Fifteen states of the original 175 have already ratified the agreement domestically — the fact that all nations are expected to participate precludes individual nations from arguing that the treaty is unfairly applied.

But the real difference between Kyoto and Paris lies in citizens’ access to — and support of — international efforts to address climate change. Pew Research Center’s Spring 2015 Global Attitudes Survey studied public opinion towards climate change legislation in over 40 countries and found that, although levels of concern varied by region, 8 out of 10 respondents polled believed that climate change is an imminent threat.

Citizens’ collective concern paired with the imminence of the climate change threat will continue to spark domestic movements for climate change legislation, which will pressure governments into adopting the Paris Agreement at home. The Paris Agreement has a long way to go, if our aim is to avoid irreversible global climate catastrophe. But the framework the agreement put into place is crucial for addressing climate change on a global scale.