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Coronavirus postpones crucial U.N. climate conference

COP26, the landmark United Nations climate conference of 2020 — originally planned to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in November — will be delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The world is facing an unprecedented global challenge & countries are rightly focusing on fighting #COVID19,” wrote Alok Sharma, the president of COP26 and a member of the U.K. parliament, on Twitter. “Due to this, #COP26 has been postponed.”

Policymakers and scientists have speculated for weeks about whether the conference, which would bring together delegations from almost 200 countries around the world, would be rescheduled due to the pandemic spreading across the globe.

Some had urged decision-makers not to delay the talks, saying that COP26 was a crucial step to advancing the goals of the 2016 Paris Agreement. “If it is going to be canceled, that should only be done at the last possible minute — in October,” Yvo do Boer, a former chief of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told the Guardian in mid-March. (The UNFCCC, the UN treaty responsible for preventing dangerous climate change, is the framework for the annual COP, or “Conference of the Parties,” meetings.)

But with national governments reeling from almost 900,000 cases of coronavirus worldwide, the possibility of a successful and productive COP26 looked increasingly slim.

The conference will be held instead in 2021, but the United Nations and the U.K. have not agreed upon a new date. This is not the first COP to experience logistical problems — last year, COP25 had to be moved abruptly from Chile to Spain due to social unrest — but the disruption in this case will be much more significant.

Countries were expected to present updated national emissions targets at COP26, and there was hope that many countries would pledge to reduce their emissions to net-zero by 2050. The world is currently far off-track to meet the goals set by the almost 200 countries that signed onto the Paris Agreement four years ago.

While the coronavirus may have slowed global emissions for the moment, experts worry that the pandemic will hinder the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy in the long run. And the COP26 delay could drive attention away from the need to reduce fossil fuel use as quickly as possible.

“COVID-19 is the most urgent threat facing humanity today,” Patricia Espinosa, U.N. executive secretary for climate change, said in a statement. “But we cannot forget that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity over the long term.”

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Coronavirus postpones crucial U.N. climate conference

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Trump spun his climate denial to the New York Times and lots of people fell for it

When I first saw New York Times reporters tweet the news that Donald Trump claimed in an interview to have an “open mind” about climate change and the Paris climate agreement, I thought, Who cares? He is packing his administration with fossil fuel promoters, so his latest comments just suggest that he’s camouflaging his climate denial with doublespeak and pandering.

Then I read the full transcript published Wednesday and was horrified by how these comments had been wildly misinterpreted by so many media outlets and commentators. A CNN subhead: “A new view on climate change?” An Associated Press lead sentence: “President-elect Donald Trump changed his tune on several topics — among them climate change and prosecuting Hillary Clinton — in statements Tuesday to The New York Times and on Twitter.”

They’re wrong. If you look at what he actually said in context, it’s clear that Trump hasn’t changed his mind on anything. Consider these six comments from his Times interview:

1. After Trump said “I have an open mind” on climate change, he went on to clarify that he’s open to the “other side,” which consists of people who don’t accept the scientific consensus on the issue.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, columnist: [A]re you going to take America out of the world’s lead of confronting climate change?

TRUMP: I’m looking at it very closely, Tom. I’ll tell you what. I have an open mind to it. We’re going to look very carefully. It’s one issue that’s interesting because there are few things where there’s more division than climate change. You don’t tend to hear this, but there are people on the other side of that issue … [CNBC news anchor] Joe [Kernan] is one of them. But a lot of smart people disagree with you. I have a very open mind. And I’m going to study a lot of the things that happened on it and we’re going to look at it very carefully.

2. Another of Trump’s much-cited quotes from the interview — “I think there is some connectivity” between human activity and climate change — is not all it seems at first glance.

JAMES BENNET, editorial page editor: When you say an open mind, you mean you’re just not sure whether human activity causes climate change? Do you think human activity is or isn’t connected?

TRUMP: I think right now … well, I think there is some connectivity. There is some, something. It depends on how much. It also depends on how much it’s going to cost our companies. You have to understand, our companies are noncompetitive right now.

The context suggests that Trump’s acceptance of climate science will depend at least in part on how much climate action might cost American businesses (read: dirty energy companies and fossil fuel–reliant industries). That does not indicate a firm grasp of scientific principles.

3. Trump cited a random local temperature on a random date to suggest that the atmosphere isn’t getting hotter on average:

You know the hottest day ever was in 1890-something, 98. You know, you can make lots of cases for different views. I have a totally open mind.

This betrays a complete lack of understanding of climate change. Global warming means global average temperatures are on the rise. Climate deniers like to cherry-pick specific temperature readings, but those numbers don’t tell us anything about broader averages. The global data tell us that 16 of 17 hottest years on record have been recorded this century.

4. The main authority Trump cited on climate science during the interview was his late uncle, who died more than 30 years ago:

My uncle was for 35 years a professor at M.I.T. He was a great engineer, scientist. He was a great guy. And he was … a long time ago, he had feelings — this was a long time ago — he had feelings on this subject.

Trump did not elaborate on what those feelings were.

5. Trump isn’t too worried about global warming because he believes his golf courses will be OK. Friedman mentioned that Trump owns a handful of “beautiful” golf courses that will be threatened by sea-level rise. Trump, laughing, talked about his Doral course in Miami, which is a few miles away from the coastline:

Some will be even better because actually like Doral is a little bit off … so it’ll be perfect. … Doral will be in great shape.

And after Friedman noted that Trump’s Royal Aberdeen golf course in Scotland could go underwater, Trump responded with an indecipherable, “The North Sea, that could be, that’s a good one, right?”

6. Trump still hates wind energy:

I have a problem with wind … First of all, we don’t make the windmills in the United States. They’re made in Germany and Japan. They’re made out of massive amounts of steel, which goes into the atmosphere, whether it’s in our country or not, it goes into the atmosphere. … I don’t think [windmills] work at all without subsidy, and that bothers me, and they kill all the birds. … With that being said, there’s a place for them. But they do need subsidy. … I wouldn’t want to subsidize it.

And Trump claims his views have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he’s fighting a wind farm proposed near his Aberdeen golf course.

By taking a few stray quotes out of context, journalists are giving the public a completely inaccurate picture of what Trump is saying and what he’s likely to do once he takes office. If Americans are to understand what’s actually happening during a Trump presidency, the media are going to have to do a lot better.

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Trump spun his climate denial to the New York Times and lots of people fell for it

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Is Brexit Delayed Brexit Denied?

Mother Jones

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Theresa May has indicated that Brexit could be delayed as she said she will not trigger the formal process for leaving the EU until there is an agreed “UK approach” backed by Scotland.

The Prime Minister on Friday travelled to Scotland to meet Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, and discuss plans for Britain’s Brexit negotiation….Ms Sturgeon has promised to explore every option to keep Scotland in the EU, and has repeatedly warned that if that is not possible as part of the UK, it is “highly likely” to lead to a second independence vote.

This sounds an awful lot like a way to ensure that Brexit never happens. Or am I missing something?

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Is Brexit Delayed Brexit Denied?

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The Clinton Campaign Just Released a Video Mocking Donald Trump’s Response to Brexit

Mother Jones

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Hillary Clinton’s campaign released a short video on Friday afternoon lampooning Donald Trump’s response to Brexit. The presumptive GOP nominee weighed in on the referendum to leave the European Union—a move he has recently championed—during a press conference at his golf course in Scotland, Turnberry. The video intercuts news footage depicting the havoc Brexit unleashed on world financial markets with footage of Trump calmly saying that a weaker pound will benefit his business. “When the pound goes down, more people are going to Turnberry,” Trump said.

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The Clinton Campaign Just Released a Video Mocking Donald Trump’s Response to Brexit

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Donald Trump is a Mediocre Businessman

Mother Jones

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I know I’ve beaten this dead horse before, but I continue to be a little surprised that no one has seriously attacked Donald Trump on his business acumen. After all, it’s his big calling card: he knows how to negotiate great deals and he’s made a ton of money from them.

But this doesn’t seem to be true.1 In fact, he seems to be a pretty mediocre businessman. Today, for example, the New York Times tells the story of Trump’s 1988 purchase of the Plaza Hotel. As even Trump admits, he was so enamored of owning it that he overpaid significantly and managed it poorly, something which contributed to his eventual financial downfall:

Once he owned the hotel, Mr. Trump put his wife, Ivana, in charge of renovating it….By 1990, the Plaza needed an operating profit of $40 million a year to break even, according to financial records that Mr. Trump disclosed at the time. The hotel had fallen well short of that goal, and with renovating expenses, in one year it burned through $74 million more than it brought in.

But Mr. Trump didn’t spend a lot of time sweating over the Plaza’s finances. He was too busy with new challenges. A few months after the Plaza deal closed, he purchased the Eastern Air Shuttle for $365 million, and in 1990, he opened the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, which cost $1 billion to build. Some of the loans he took out to pay for deals were personally guaranteed.

….Mr. Trump’s brief ownership of the Plaza…marked the beginning of his transition from an owner of major assets to a manager of major assets. An increasing share of his wealth would come in the future from licensing his name, not just to builders but sellers of suits, cologne, chandeliers, mattresses and more. In professional parlance, he went from “asset heavy” to “asset light.”

The Plaza was a huge money loser. The shuttle was a disaster. Trump never understood the casino business, and his Atlantic City properties started hemorrhaging cash almost as soon as they were completed. All of this pushed him to the edge of personal bankruptcy, which he avoided solely because his banks decided Trump’s holdings could be liquidated at a higher price if they allowed him to stay solvent. In the aftermath of this bloodbath, he raised money by taking the remains of his casino and resort properties public. And since this was a public company, we know exactly how well it did: it lost money every single year and went into bankruptcy proceedings in 2004 (and again in 2009 for good measure). Since then, he’s mostly bought and managed golf resorts, which has been a good but not great business for him.

Bottom line: When it comes to building and managing tangible assets, there’s really not much evidence that Trump has much talent. He inherited a huge amount of money and nearly lost it all during his first couple of decades in the development business. However, before the money ran out he was able to use it to create the “Trump show” (his words), and in the couple of decades since then his income has come not from building things, but primarily from licensing and entertainment.

Trump seems to have two genuine talents. The first is that he’s apparently a masterful reader of people. The second is that he’s a hypnotic blowhard, which accounts for his success at both branding and TV, as well as his success at scams like Trump University.

Needless to say, we’ve seen both of these talents at work on the campaign trail. The first allows him to zero in unerringly on his opponents’ most sensitive spots—weaknesses that others frequently don’t even see, let alone exploit. The second allows him to mesmerize the media and the public while pulling off the greatest scam of his life.

But as a businessman, he’s so-so. He lets his decisions be guided by his gut, and his gut isn’t really very good. That’s where Trump Plaza, Trump Air, Trump football, Trump City, the Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Steaks, and Trump University come from. That’s not much of a recommendation for the presidency.

1Needless to say, he can prove his business mettle anytime he wants to. He just has to open up his books. Show us revenues and GAAP earnings over the past 20 years. Show us return on equity and return on assets. Break it all down by business line so we can see how much is from TV and branding vs. tangible projects. There’s nothing hard about it.

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Donald Trump is a Mediocre Businessman

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An Update on the Yosemite Park Trademark Dispute

Mother Jones

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I wrote a post yesterday about a New York company that claims it owns the trademark to various locations at Yosemite National Park. Based on the story I read, this seemed obviously outrageous, and that was the tone I took.

But that was probably wrong. I ended up looking into this issue a little more deeply, and it turns out that the whole thing goes back several years and is actually a fairly pedestrian contract dispute. Here’s a quick outline of what happened:

In 1993, the National Park Service put up the concessions at Yosemite for bid. The winner was Delaware North, which was required to buy the assets of the Curry Company as part of the deal. This included the Ahwahnee Hotel, Camp Curry, and several other pieces of property.
In July 2014 the concessions were once again put up for bid. The winning bidder would be required to pay Delaware North fair market value for the assets it owned, which included real property such as the Ahwahnee and Camp Curry, as well as “other property.”
The Park Service initially valued the “other property” at $22 million. In December 2014 it increased its valuation to $30 million, which included an estimate of $3.5 million for intangible property. Of this, $1.63 million covered trademarks and other intellectual property.
Delaware North disagreed with this assessment. It valued “other property” at about $100 million, which included an estimate of $51 million for intangible property. Of this, $44 million covered trademarks and other intellectual property.
Delaware North filed a protest with the GAO over the Park Service valuation, but in April 2015 the GAO dismissed the protest.
June 2015 Aramark won the Yosemite contract.
In September 2015 Delaware North took the case to court.

And that’s pretty much where we stand today. It turns out there’s nothing inherently outrageous about Delaware North owning some of these trademarks, as even the Park Service admits. “We have not denied the fact that they do own intellectual property,” said Scott Gediman, a spokesman for Yosemite National Park. “But with these trademarks, it’s kind of two issues: One, are these trademarks valid, and, two, what is the value of them?” So this is a pretty routine contract dispute. Which trademarks are legit and which aren’t? Did Delaware North acquire these trademarks “surreptitiously” or with the knowledge of the Park Service? And how much are they worth? Delaware North says they’re worth $44 million. The Park Service says they’re worth $1.63 million. The issue is now in court, and Delaware North says it has offered to allow Aramark free use of the trademarks until the dispute is settled. Yesterday, however, the Park Service announced that it would simply rename everything and make the case moot.

It’s quite possible that Delaware North’s valuation is absurdly high. That’s my guess, since the value of these trademarks is mostly due to being attached to Yosemite Park, not to anything special that Delaware North has done to create or exploit them. But I’m no lawyer and I don’t know. That’s for a court to decide.

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An Update on the Yosemite Park Trademark Dispute

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Friday Cat Blogging – 15 January 2016

Mother Jones

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A few days ago Marian went out to buy some new cat toys because, you know, a couple dozen clearly wasn’t enough. You can see her haul below, all with nice, fresh tails. Once the tails come off—which doesn’t take long—they’re no fun anymore. But you can’t please everyone. Hilbert looks like he’s saying “What? That’s all? I jumped all the way onto the counter just for this?”

In other cat news, my sister points us to this YouTube video of a cat invading a Liverpool-Spurs soccer match. It’s three years old, but who’s counting?

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Friday Cat Blogging – 15 January 2016

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Charts of the Day: Which One Do You Believe?

Mother Jones

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Over at the motherblog, Kristina Rizga has an interesting piece about what happens when you try to integrate majority-black schools. Basically, nobody likes it. The poorer (mostly black) parents don’t like the idea of a bunch of rich folks coming in and pushing them around. The richer (mostly white) parents don’t like the idea of their kids going to a low-performing school. But Kristina points to a substantial body of research showing that, in fact, white kids do fine when they move to schools in poorer black neighborhoods. In fact, they might even do better on a variety of metrics.

The whole piece is worth a read, but because I’m a nerd I going to use it as an excuse for a statistics lesson. One of the links in the piece is to a recent report from the federal government about the black-white achievement gap. It contains three charts of note. The first is on the right, and it shows white test scores in schools with different densities of black students. Basically, it confirms the worst fears of white parents: as the percentage of black kids goes up, the test scores of the white kids go down.

But wait. Maybe the white kids in majority-black districts are lower performing to begin with. So let’s control for income. That gets you the chart on the bottom left. Not so bad! Then let’s control for some other characteristics. Bingo! If we do a proper job of comparing apples to apples, white kids actually do better when they go to schools with very high densities of black students. White fears turn out to be entirely unfounded.

So here’s the question: which chart do you believe? The one with the raw data? Or the ones with all the fancy-pants statistical controls? Are the controls legitimate? Or are they just the result of a bunch of liberal analysts in the Department of Education torturing the data until they get the politically correct result they want?

Even statisticians might disagree about this. So how are laymen supposed to understand it? If you were a parent and these were your kids we were talking about, which chart would you believe?

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Charts of the Day: Which One Do You Believe?

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The 9 Best Moments From Thurday’s GOP Debate

Mother Jones

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The first Republican presidential debate of 2016 was one of realignment. The candidates themselves had a bit more space on stage, after Carly Fiorina and Sen. Rand Paul were kicked out of the prime-time debate thanks to their dwindling poll numbers. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump broke their tentative alliance as Trump pondered whether Cruz could legally serve as president. Marco Rubio and Trump got wonky on tax policy and immigration as they sought to tear each other down.

With just over two weeks left before the Iowa caucuses, here are a few of the highlights from Thursday’s debate.

Cruz would have retaliated for captured sailors.

Even though the 10 sailors captured by Iran were released on Wednesday, Cruz opened the debate by promising that “any nation that captures our fighting men will feel the full force and fury of the United States of America.”

Cruz also railed against President Barack Obama for failing to mention the sailors in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, which occurred before the sailors were released. The White House has already explained the decision not to discuss the situation in that speech as a foreign policy decision:


In a birther debate, Cruz points out that Trump’s mother was born in Scotland.

Cruz and Trump had a drawn out confrontation over whether Cruz is eligible to be president. Cruz made the legal case for his eligibility, but then tried to turn the argument against Trump—whose mother was born in Scotland.

“I would note that the birther theories that Donald has been relying on, some of the more extreme ones insist that you must not only be born on U.S. soil, but have two parents born on U.S. soil. Under that theory, not only would I be disqualified, Marco Rubio would be disqualified, Bobby Jindal would be disqualified, and interestingly enough, Donald J. Trump would be disqualified. Because Donald’s mother was born in Scotland. She was naturalized.”

“Donald, I’m not going to use your mother’s birth against you,” Cruz promised Trump of the revelation about his mother. “Good,” Trump responded. “Because it wouldn’t work.”


Trump foresees a lawsuit over Cruz’s birther problem.

In launching a birther attack on Cruz, Trump predicted a disaster scenario for the GOP: Trump wins the nomination, picks Cruz as his running mate, and then Democrats file a lawsuit over Cruz’s eligibility that ruins the campaign.

“I already know the Democrats are going to be bringing a suit. You have a big lawsuit over your head while you’re running. And if you become the nominee, who the hell knows if you can even serve in office?” Trump warned. “So you should go out, get a declaratory judgment, let the courts decide.”

“Why are you saying this now right now?” moderator Neil Cavuto asked Trump.

“Because now he’s doing a little bit better,” Trump responded. “Hey look, he never had a chance. Now, he’s doing better. He’s got probably a 4 or 5 percent chance.”

Trump gladly accepts the “mantle of anger.”

During her response to Obama’s State of the Union this week, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called out the “angriest voices” in the party. Moderator Maria Bartiromo wondered if Trump thought she’d gone too far. Trump said no.

“I’m very angry because our country is being run horribly and I will gladly accept the mantle of anger,” Trump responded, saying he had no beef with Haley. He proudly touted how angry he was, and said he’d stay that way until he’s elected president and fixes things up. “I’m very, very angry,” Trump said. “So when Nikki said that, I wasn’t offended. She said the truth.”


Rubio vs. Christie: The battle for third.

Rubio was probably hoping he would not be bickering with Chris Christie two weeks before voting starts while Trump and Cruz repeatedly engage each other as the two front-runners. And yet, that’s what happened Thursday night. Christie has been gaining support in New Hampshire, threatening to overtake Rubio in the polls. So the super PAC supporting Rubio has launched negative attacks ads on Christie. Rubio doubled down on those attacks when asked if he stood by those attack ads. But Christie, prepared for the attack, returned fire.


Asked about Bill Clinton, Ben Carson bemoans…internet commenters?

Oh, Ben. The Fox moderators asked Carson whether it was fair to hold Hillary Clinton responsible for her husband’s “sexual misconduct.” Carson didn’t have much of a response for that, but he wanted to discuss “values and principles.” What, in Carson’s mind, was an indication that the nation’s morals had fallen?

“You know, you go to the internet, you start reading an article and you go to the comments section—you cannot go five comments down before people are calling each all manner of names,” Carson said. “Where did that spirit come from in America? It did not come from our Judeo-Christian roots, I can tell you that. And wherever it came from we need to start once again recognizing that there is such a thing as right and wrong. And let’s not let the secular progressives drive that out of us.”

Rubio wants a gun in case ISIS attacks.

None of the Republicans on stage were fans of Obama’s calls for further gun control. But Rubio took his defense of Second Amendment rights a step further, saying that bearing arms is not just a constitutional right, but a necessity for keeping the country safe from ISIS.

“And let me tell you, ISIS and terrorists do not get their guns from a gun show,” Rubio said. “Here’s a fact. We are in a war against ISIS. They are trying to attack us here in America. They attacked us in Philadelphia last week. They attacked us in San Bernardino two weeks ago. And the last line standing between them and our families might be us and a gun.”


Trump plays the 9/11 card.

Cruz walked right into this one. The senator from Texas, who has been attacking Trump as a New York liberal, made the accusation to his face Thursday night. And just like that, Cruz handed Trump the opportunity to defend New York with the mother of all trump cards.

“When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York,” he said. “And the people in New York fought and fought and fought, and we saw more death, and even the smell of death—nobody understood it. And it was with us for months, the smell, the air. And we rebuilt downtown Manhattan, and everybody in the world watched and everybody in the world loved New York and loved New Yorkers.”

“And I have to tell you,” he concluded, “that was a very insulting statement that Ted made.”

All Cruz could do was smile, nod, and clap for Trump.


Rubio takes on Cruz as a flip-flopping politician.

Near the end of the evening, Rubio finally got a chance to go after Cruz—and he went all out. Rubio accused Cruz of changing his positions on issues like the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and ethanol subsidies to win voters.

When Rubio had finished, Cruz responded that his opponent had dumped his entire opposition research file on him.

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The 9 Best Moments From Thurday’s GOP Debate

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Europe Is Going After Donald Trump in the Most Amazingly European Way

Mother Jones

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The story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

A parliamentary petition backed by 500,000 people failed to bar Donald Trump from the United Kingdom, but the controversial US presidential candidate and climate change skeptic now faces a new deterrent: a fine for the carbon pollution from one of his enormous private jets.

The Bahrain Royal family, 21st Century Fox America, the company chaired by Rupert Murdoch, and British construction vehicle manufacturers JCB have also been asked to pay up for flights to and from the UK.

The Environment Agency, which is responsible for enforcing the European Union’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) in the UK, has issued over £750,000 (roughly $1.1 million) in fines to a total of 25 operators for “failure to surrender sufficient allowances to cover annual reportable emissions”.

The ETS requires polluters to surrender a carbon permit for every metric ton of carbon pollution emitted, or pay a €100 ($109) per ton fine. Permits are given to many air operators for free but can be bought if needed for about €8 ($8.72) currently.

Donald Trump faces a £1,610 ($2,339) penalty for a flight to the UK in a plane owned by DJT Operations I LLC, possibly the $100 million Boeing 757 he uses as a private jet, complete with master bedroom and gold taps. The 757 is 54 meters long and usually carries 200-300 passengers. Trump opened his golf course in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, in 2012, the period covered by the fines published on 5 January.

The ETS is intended to limit carbon emissions and reduce climate change. This is unlikely to impress Trump, who has called climate change “bullshit” and a concept “created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” Hope Hicks, Trump’s campaign communications manager, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Bahrain royal family has been hit with a heftier fine, £60,698 ($88,275), while 21st Century Fox America was fined £17,463 ($25,397).

The 25 operators fined include a series of private jet operators, insurance giant AIG, Air India, and a “MIG Russian Aircraft,” which was not a military plane. JCB Ltd was hit with the biggest fine of £157,596 ($229,197)

“The EU Emissions Trading System is an important means of regulating emissions from aviation operators,” said Liz Parkes, Environment Agency deputy director of climate change and business services. “The Environment Agency’s enforcement activity is part of coordinated action across Europe.” Confidentiality rules mean the EA is unable to disclose whether fines have been paid or not.

Additional reporting by Scott Bixby in New York.

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Europe Is Going After Donald Trump in the Most Amazingly European Way

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