On May 27, we watched Rick Duke, the White House Deputy Director for Climate Policy, give a masterful performance of bureaucratic doublespeak worthy of George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. Not only did he repeatedly avoid answering a simple “yes or no” question posed by four different people (from across the political and professional spectrum), he did so while repeatedly invoking the need for “transparency and accountability”.  Dodging a question is easy; dodging it four times while racking up eight “need for transparency and accountabilities” (plus a lone “transparency”, which must have been a glitch in his programming) is a work of art.*  We’d say, “Hats off to you, Mr. Duke” right now, but that was just the start.  

The question, of course, was “Where is the analysis upon which the U.S. based its commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 26 – 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025?”  On the other hand, Mr. Duke’s performance did confirm what everyone in the room already suspected: there is no credible analysis showing how we can do so with the measures described in the U.S. Intended National Determined Commitment (INDC) (the formal UNFCC commitment document).  The INDC says “The [26 percent] target reflects a planning process that examined opportunities under existing regulatory authorities to reduce emissions in 2025 of all greenhouse gases from all sources in every economic sector.”  That means one of two things: Either there are other planned measures under existing regulatory authority that have not been revealed (perhaps out of fear of public and political reaction), or the Administration is just basking in the glow of satisfaction of setting the goal, while leaving the bothersome compliance problem to someone else. 

The reason why everyone was gathered at the National Press Club was the unveiling of a World Resources Institute analysis of how the gap between what the U.S. has promised and what the U.S. can plausibly deliver might be met. Incredibly, Mr. Duke blithely asserted that the WRI report supported the Administration’s position that their vague laundry list of statutory authorities and regulatory measures will get us to 26 percent, even though the WRI report’s explicit premise is that, “Roughly 70–75 percent of the potential abatement we identified in 2025 under this [compliance] pathway is in sectors in which the Obama Administration has already begun to act.”   

Of course, it is only vague to us; to Mr. Duke, there is “quite a bit of detail” in the INDC and in the President’s Climate Action Plan.  (As you can see for yourself, there are a lot of words in those documents but nothing that shows how those words add up to 26 percent.)  Mr. Duke not only confidently asserted that “Our numbers are quite clear” while refusing to reveal any numbers, but then added that it is really other countries’ lack of openness that is the problem

With so many such moments, it is hard to pick a favorite.  But there was something very special about Mr. Duke assuring everyone that if they would just read the first U.S. Biennial Report on emissions reductions progress, and then the forthcoming one, everything will become clear.  Perfection: not only does the First Biennial Report deal only with meeting the relatively easier goal of 17 percent reductions by 2020, but Paris is in six months, and the next Biennial Report comes in 2016.    

MiniTruth would have been proud.    

*And because we think it is important to justify the numbers we use, yes, we went back to the C-Span tape and counted.