This week, the United States officially rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, an agreement among nations to attempt to lessen the overall human-made output of carbon emissions in order to address global climate change.
The readmission of the U.S. to the agreement comes after President Joe Biden issued an executive order on his first day in office to reenter the plan. It does not come without its own set of detractors, however — most notably Republican lawmakers, who allege the agreement will hurt jobs in the country.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) is among those who say as much. Tweeting about the reentry into the accord, Blackburn wrote on Friday that the Biden administration “has shown an incredible penchant for putting hard-working Americans out of work during an unprecedented pandemic.”
The Biden Administration has shown an incredible penchant for putting hard-working Americans out of work during an unprecedented pandemic. Rejoining the Paris Agreement will kill another 400,000 jobs and lead our country away from energy independence. Whose team is he on?
— Sen. Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) February 19, 2021
Rejoining the Paris Agreement will kill another 400,000 jobs and lead our country away from energy independence. Whose team is he on?
Where Blackburn’s claim originated
A number of lawmakers, who either disagree with the belief that climate change exists in general or simply believe it’s not worth investing in halting for economic reasons, have made fanciful claims about jobs possibly being lost if ideas such as the Green New Deal or the Paris Climate Accord are implemented in the future. But oftentimes, they base those claims on research that has some serious flaws to them.
Predictions on jobs that could be lost range from the thousands to the millions. Blackburn specifically stated a figure of 400,000 jobs that would be lost due to reentering the climate agreement, so for this fact check, we will put focus on that number, including from where it originated.
In 2017, The Heritage Foundation published its own research that estimated the Paris Climate Accord specifically would result in 400,000 jobs lost. It’s likely that’s where Blackburn’s number comes from, too.
How would this happen? The agreement’s costs, Heritage said, would hurt industries and dampen spending power for American families.
“…over the next decade, the agreement will cost Americans an extra $30,000 per family of four in higher energy prices) and some 400,000 lost jobs (200,000 in manufacturing alone),” their findings stated.
Heritage’s research went after academics, too, who had lauded the climate agreement as a positive direction to take.
“We can’t help wondering if the thousands of university professors, environmental activists, climatologists and government bureaucrats would be so enthusiastic if it were their jobs that were going to be eliminated,” the organization added.
Citing these numbers, Heritage urged lawmakers to end U.S. involvement in the Paris Climate Accord. In June 2017, six months after taking office, former President Donald Trump announced he would be taking steps to do so, and on November 4, 2020, the U.S. formally left the agreement.
Heritage’s numbers weren’t reliable, in many people’s eyes
Shortly after The Heritage Foundation released its report, others took a look at it and found glaring errors in what they had published. The World Resources Institute went line-by-line in Heritage’s numbers, for instance, and explained that Heritage’s findings should be looked at with a discerning eye.
The report from Heritage, WRI noted, used outdated figures to draw its conclusions from. Heritage also made assumptions on costs based on outlier estimates — taking seriously numbers that were far and beyond what other similar research was producing.
The Heritage report also failed to discuss the results and impacts that adhering to the climate pledge would create, including disregarding entirely “the positive effects on the economy of climate action, such as increased competitiveness in a rapidly expanding global clean energy industry and greater productivity from a healthier workforce due to reduced air pollution,” WRI wrote.
The organization opined that Heritage’s numbers served a purpose that wasn’t really about warning what the Paris Climate Accord would mean economically, but rather give conservative politicians fodder for opposing the agreement:
Opponents of climate action are using the Heritage study to argue that costs are high and benefits are low, but the study’s claims on costs do not stand up to scrutiny and the study fails to provide a relevant estimate of benefits.
Sticking to the agreement could create jobs, experts say
Indeed, experts believe that the Paris Climate Accord could incentivize U.S. fossil fuel companies to modernize their capabilities, to shift to greener energy ideas, or create more efficient products. That in itself would result in the creation of jobs, many believe.
Tracy Raczek, who “conceptualized and developed” the idea that eventually became the Paris Climate Accord itself, spoke to Forbes about how the agreement could be beneficial in this way.
“When you look at greening infrastructure, greening cement, greening houses, retrofitting houses, truly transitioning our entire economy, you have an incredible job opportunity…and this is a middle income job boom possibility,” she said.
Raczek also specifically singled out the Biden-Harris strategy for climate change, describing it as a “jobs plan” as well.
It’s unclear right now whether the Paris Climate Accord will become a jobs creator or a jobs loser. Much of it is dependent on how industries and Americans react to being held to account to the agreement — which is, itself, a nonbinding pact that countries are allowed to enforce on their own.
Still, the fear that jobs will be lost due to the accord is largely unfounded, particularly when you look at where individuals like Blackburn get their numbers from to make such claims — “research” that looks at selective numbers in order to inflate the true impact of what might happen further down the road isn’t reliable, and thus, neither is the senator’s claim.
It’s not as if jobs in the fossil fuel industries aren’t already being whittled away, either. During Trump’s four years in office, even after announcing the U.S. was leaving the Paris agreement, 33,000 mining jobs, many linked to fossil fuel extraction, were lost, despite assurances from the former president that he’d be saving them.
On whether the Paris Climate Accord, and other ideas (including the Green New Deal) will hurt jobs or not, only time will tell. But Blackburn, citing a specific figure that’s based on a debunked report from a conservative organization, is wrong to keep peddling that number as if it were factual.