International reports contradict Wheeler’s climate message

By Jean Chemnick | 11/19/2019 06:42 AM EST

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler used a trip to Israel this week to test the Trump administration’s messaging on climate change to a global audience — but new emissions figures are likely to undercut his rosy argument.

The EPA chief said during an interview yesterday with The Jerusalem Post that countries that criticize the United States for its pending withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement overlook the fact that the U.S. has made strides in recent years in reducing domestic emissions linked to warming.

In an interview circulated to EPA’s press list, the Post quotes Wheeler saying that other wealthy countries "who are criticizing us aren’t making the same progress as we are making."


Wheeler is in Israel for a water management conference.

It’s a message Wheeler has offered repeatedly in the United States, and he has been able to refer to EPA greenhouse gas data through 2017 to show a continuing, modest downward trend in U.S. emissions stemming from the power sector’s continued shift from coal to gas. EPA’s 2019 greenhouse gas inventory showed a half-percent fall in emissions during President Trump’s first year in office (Greenwire, April 12).

But the inventory EPA releases every April, as mandated by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, reports greenhouse gas data from two years prior — and the agency’s 2020 installment isn’t likely to bolster Wheeler’s narrative. That’s because a growing list of international organizations and entities already have released estimates showing that U.S. emissions not only rose in 2018, but did so by a higher margin than most other major economies and with an outsized impact on global emissions levels.

The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre report on global emissions, published in late September, is the latest example. It showed U.S. emissions increased an estimated 2.9% between 2017 and 2018, driven by surging transportation emissions and other factors. By contrast, China — which Wheeler and other Trump administration officials have derided for free-riding on U.S. efforts to cut emissions — grew its greenhouse gas output by only 1.5% last year compared with the previous year. The 28 nations of the European Union, meanwhile, cut their emissions by an aggregated 1.9% last year compared with 2017.

India, the world’s fourth-largest emitter, showed the sharpest year-on-year increase of any major emitter for 2018: 7.2%.

The report by European researchers followed an estimate earlier in the year by the Paris-based International Energy Agency, which showed that U.S. emissions climbed 3.1% in 2018 above 2017 levels. They remain below the U.S. peak, which occurred around 2000. Increased emissions from China, India and the United States last year bore 85% of the responsibility for driving global greenhouse gases higher than they had ever been before — a 1.7% year-on-year increase, according to IEA.

Major European countries including France, Germany and the United Kingdom — the critics Wheeler could have been targeting in his Jerusalem interview — all cut their emissions last year by wide margins. The European Commission report put those 2018 reductions at 10.8% for the United Kingdom, 9.4% for France and 4.8% for Germany.