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U.N. Official Says Pulling Out Of Paris Climate Deal Will Cost Jobs


President Trump came and went from Europe last week without telling other world leaders if he will keep the United States in a climate deal. Now he faces that decision. Press Secretary Sean Spicer says the president talked over the deal this week with his top environmental official, climate skeptic Scott Pruitt.


SEAN SPICER: This is the subject that the president is spending a great deal of time on and one that he spoke to the G7 members about during their meetings. Ultimately, he wants a fair deal for the American people, and he will have an announcement coming on that shortly.

INSKEEP: The people waiting include Erik Solheim, who is executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme and is on the line via Skype from Nairobi, Kenya. Welcome to the program, sir.

ERIK SOLHEIM: Thank you so much. And good morning to everyone in Washington.

INSKEEP: I want to remind - and across the United States, by the way, and around the world - I want to remind people that the Paris climate agreement has a number of nations which commit themselves to very - basic voluntary goals, and it's a variety of goals. Given the variations in this deal, what's it matter if the United States stays in?

SOLHEIM: It matters quite a lot. However, the agreement will stay, whatever happens to the United States. I mean, every other government in the world is committed. I mean, India, China, Europe, they will all move ahead, whatever happens in the U.S.

But I think the U.S. should stay in it for the world but mainly should stay in it for the U.S. I mean, climate change will affect the people of the United States from ice melting in Alaska to sea level rise in Florida. So this is in the deepest interest of the American people to be party to this.

INSKEEP: But isn't the United States already seen as slipping behind some of its commitments to reduce carbon emissions by about 2025?

SOLHEIM: The private sector is so much taking the lead that you may even look into a situation where the United States is living up to its Paris commitment even if the White House decide to withdraw because all the big companies - some of them - companies in the United States, I mean, all the Apples and Microsofts and Googles, the Wal-Marts, they're all moving fast towards a renewable economy. Even the coal companies of Kentucky understand that the future lies in solar. I mean, the coal museum in Kentucky just a few weeks back decided to add the electricity to its grid. And what did the coal museum do? Well, they went for solar because it's the cheapest new energy you can get in Kentucky.

INSKEEP: Oh, and you're reminding me that big companies like Google that use immense amounts of electricity on server farms are buying wind farms to balance that out. But with that said, Scott Pruitt of the Environmental Protection Agency was on ABC a couple of months ago, and he complained that the Paris deal itself is unfair. Let's listen to a little bit of that.


SCOTT PRUITT: What was wrong with Paris was not just that it was, you know, failed to be treated as a treaty, but China and India, the largest producers of CO2 internationally, got away scot-free. They didn't have to take steps until 2030. So we penalized ourselves through lost jobs while China and India didn't take steps to address the issue internationally. So Paris was just a bad deal in my estimation.

INSKEEP: Again, reminding us that this is a voluntary agreement in which countries agree to do different things. Is Pruitt right that it's unfair to the United States?

SOLHEIM: He's completely mistaken. China and India is moving - both of them are moving much, much faster than anyone expected. China's closing down coal mines in rapid speed. Last week, Prime Minister Modi of India at the - World Environment Day announced new steps from India. And International Energy Agency very - last week or the week before came up with a new estimate of when they will reach peak oil.

They put that time much earlier today than they previously thought. Why was that? Because China and India are moving much faster into electrical mobility in the big cities than anyone thought. So don't underestimate China and India. They're fast catching up with the United States. And in the end, if the United States are not vigilant, all the fantastic new jobs in the renewable energies will just simply go to China and India.

INSKEEP: You just mentioned jobs. And, of course, this administration in the United States is all about jobs. Are you arguing that the Paris climate agreement, rather than costing jobs, actually creates them?

SOLHEIM: It's a great job creator in the United States itself. There is now 400,000 jobs in solar and wind. There is a little bit - about 50,000 jobs in coal. And where is the investor who believe that the future is in coal? Although they may understand that the future's with solar and wind. So there is any number of jobs to be gained from these fantastic new renewable revolution.

INSKEEP: Well, Mr. Solheim, thanks very much.

SOLHEIM: Thank you.

INSKEEP: We've been talking with Erik Solheim. He is the head of the United Nations Environment Programme, speaking with us via Skype from Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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