The Trump administration has so far refused to be drawn into a debate on the findings in an alarming new U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that concludes the world will cross a key threshold of dangerous climate change by 2040 on its current greenhouse gas emissions path.
Unless governments around the globe undertake “unprecedented” action to reverse climate change, the report says, Earth’s temperatures will increase 1.5ºC (2.7ºF) over pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. The world is already more than halfway to that dangerous threshold, with human activity causing warming of about 1.8ºF since the 1850s, the beginning of large-scale industrial coal burning.
Since the report was released, Trump officials, many of whom have publicly rejected widely accepted climate science, have failed to explain how they plan to address the warnings in the report or if they plan to reverse any of the many anti-climate action policies the administration has implemented over the past 20 months. Several agencies contacted by ThinkProgress tried to distance themselves from the report’s findings.
President Donald Trump, who has called climate change a hoax invented by China, expressed suspicion Tuesday afternoon about the UN climate report. “It was given to me. And I want to look at who drew it. You know, which group drew it,” Trump told reporters. “I can give you reports that are fabulous and I can give you reports that aren’t so good.”
Trump has attacked the Paris climate agreement, the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, and vehicle emissions standards, each of which would curb carbon emissions. Trump has also encouraged fossil fuel production and vowed to save the coal industry from its inevitable decline.
An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spokesperson said the agency appreciates the “hard work of the scientists and experts, many from the United States, who developed this report under considerable time pressure.”
But the agency, in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress on Tuesday, emphasized that the report and its contents remain the responsibility of its authors under IPCC procedures. In defense of the U.S., the EPA noted America leads the world in carbon emissions reductions, having reduced its emissions by 14 percent since 2005.
The State Department also emphasized that acceptance of the IPCC report “does not imply endorsement by the United States of the specific findings or underlying contents of the report.”
In an email to ThinkProgress, an agency spokesperson said the 14 percent reduction in carbon emissions since 2005 “has been possible through the development and large-scale deployment of new, affordable, and cleaner technologies to capitalize on our energy abundance.”
“The U.S. approach to addressing climate change has unburdened communities, individuals, and industries by allowing them to develop and implement policies that fit their needs,” the State Department official said.
Since Trump’s election as president, however, the U.S. government has worked to undo every serious climate change policy. The administration would need to make an abrupt and dramatic reversal, instituting new policies to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions, in order to avoid catastrophic climate change — a highly unlikely scenario.
In a statement to the New York Times, the State Department emphasized the administration still intends to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement at the earliest opportunity “absent the identification of terms that are better for the American people.”
Ninety-one authors and review editors from 40 countries prepared the IPCC report in response to an invitation from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change when it adopted the Paris climate agreement in 2015. At the summit, nations, including the United States, agreed to set a goal of keeping warming to “well-below” 2ºC with best efforts toward 1.5ºC.
On June 1, 2017, though, Trump announced that the United States would initiate the formal process to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. Under the accord, countries are allowed to withdraw four years from the date the agreement entered into force — meaning the United States will officially exit the agreement on November 4, 2020.
The Trump administration claims new technologies, such as hydraulic fracturing, have contributed more to reducing greenhouse gas emissions than government policies.
“While others have been focused on reports and symbolic agreements, the Trump administration has been focused on all-of-the-above energy policies that produce positive results for the environment,” Department of Energy press secretary Shaylyn Hynes said Tuesday in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress.
“From the development of new clean coal and renewable technologies at our National Labs to advocacy for zero emission nuclear and American LNG, the Department of Energy is keenly focused on developing this country’s abundant resources in a cleaner way,” Hynes said.
Clean coal refers to coal-fired power plants that capture the carbon emissions from burning coal and stores them somewhere else, usually underground. Cost, however, is one of the many challenges facing development and commercialization of these types of plants, as they have been significantly more expensive than conventional coal-fired plants and face significant technical challenges.
As for natural gas, a comprehensive study of methane leaks in the oil and gas industry may represent the final piece of evidence that natural gas is not part of the climate solution. The study, released in June, found that if a coal-fired plant is replaced with a gas-fired plant there is no net climate benefit for at least two decades.
Coverage of the IPCC report varied among news organizations. A majority of the top 50 newspapers across the country did not feature any homepage coverage of a landmark climate change report after its release, according to a study released late Monday by nonprofit Media Matters for America.
On Tuesday, the Sierra Club urged reporters to make the dire warnings in the IPCC report a top priority for White House officials.
“Whenever Sarah Huckabee Sanders gets around to holding another press briefing, it’s time she answered for the Trump Administration’s silence on the IPCC report that indicates that catastrophic effects of the climate crisis could occur within the lifetime of much of the world’s population,” the Sierra Club said. “Yesterday, Trump Administration officials refused to comment on the startling report, claiming ‘It’s a Kavanaugh Night.’”