This is part 4 of the Paris Yearning series examining events occurring in the wake of President Trump’s decision to rescind U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Agreement.
Chancellor Merkel Lowers G20 Expectations
Sean Spicer isn’t all that’s hiding in the bushes these days. Spicey is increasingly seen in the company of warning signs facing the world on the road to the sustainable kingdom(s).
The result of the UK election is also leading to an increase in the number of pundits seeking refuge in the greenery. The surprise outcome was not the only current event casting shade over international aspirations for keeping global warming within the bounds of considered safety.
German Chancellor Merkel recently struck a cautious note concerning the outcome of next month’s G20 meeting in Hamburg. A committed climate defender, Ms. Merkel was on a pre-summit tour to discuss the upcoming meeting with the leaders of member nations.
During a news conference in Argentina the German head of state signaled a narrowing of expectations in key areas. Trump’s announced U.S. exit from the climate agreement and his lukewarm embrace of NATO and the G7 cast shadows over continued cooperation on global warming, trade and migration.
The UK election appears to have thrown yet another spanner into the workings of British government. Having suffered the loss of an outright Parliamentary majority in last week’s vote, Prime Minister May is on the prowl for a governing partner.
Her choice of mate is Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The DUP holds ten seats in Parliament—just enough to give the Tories a majority, if discipline holds.
The unexpected loss of 13 seats and the accompanying criticism from fellow conservatives led the PM to appoint Michael Gove, a one-time opponent, as environment secretary. According to the Guardian:
Theresa May announced Gove’s return to politics as part of her reshuffle on Sunday. The news was greeted with anger and frustration
by environmental campaigners, who lamented his record on green issues, including his attempt to remove climate change from the geography
curriculum while education secretary.
Gove’s appointment appears more an effort to salve wounds than an attack on the environment. Gove refused to endorse May for PM after the Brexit vote-deciding instead to throw his own bowler into the ring. After beating Gove for the top spot, May exiled him.
Gove’s appointment as environment secretary in combination with efforts to establish a coalition government with the DUP—whether intentional or not—raises the risk of the UK’s putting climate on the back burners ,as Gove himself moves up from the backbench.
A formidable advocate of Brexit, Gove is on record claiming climate change has been captured by people who want to use the genuine dangers…as a way of providing a new rationale for greater state power and centralization.
The UK’s new environment secretary is likely to find denier-allies in the DUP. The Party’s version of a policy platform references neither the environment nor climate change. A literary style shared with the Trump administration.
Sammy Wilson, a leading DUP Member of Parliament (MP), has held the position of environmental minister within the Party. He, along with Piers Corbyn, organized Climate Fool’s Day—a celebration for Parliament.
P. Corbyn, interestingly, is the brother of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Although sharing the same mother, they seem not to share the same
Wilson, a subscriber to Trump’s hoax theory, stated in 2014:
We are already paying through the nose for electricity because we go down the route of the dearest electricity possible through renewable
energy and are putting our agricultural industry in jeopardy because there is no greater producer of greenhouse gases than cows.
Caroline Lucas, the Green party co-leader and an MP has said of Gove it was hard to “think of many politicians as ill-equipped for the role of environment secretary…. Perhaps not, I would suggest, however, she cast a glance on this side of the Atlantic.
Prime Minister May’s election loss and need to forge a coalition government gives the DUP’s 10 votes an outsized influence. The DUP has been described having a political philosophy that would not look out of place on the fringes of the Republican Party. Regarding the Republican Party, the description is a bit out of date. Given Trump’s decision to renege on Obama’s climate commitment, climate denial is now mainstream Republican.
"It’s disturbing to think that May has thought to lure the DUP and right-of-right conservatives in her own party through the environmental
portal. At best, it suggests climate’s lack of standing in the PM’s mind and, at worst, serves up a low-carbon future up as a sacrificial lamb."
It is the same strategy employed by Trump. His erasing the nation’s signature from the Paris Accord was nothing more than pandering to his core supporters on the back of an issue The Donald considers inconsequential to his legacy. It was intended to offset growing criticism of his performance to-date.
Chancellor Merkel’s moderation of environmental expectations going into the G20 meeting is surely based on a veteran politician’s read of the tea leaves. Merkel appears to be uneasy—at least near-term-- despite the aggressive stances taken by Germany, France, Canada, Italy, China, India and others--post Donald’s denial. Even North Korea’s trolling Trump failed to increase her comfort level.
Trump’s Rose Garden denouement saddened world leaders and the clean energy and climate communities. It was not unexpected, however. In and of itself it didn’t cause the circumstances the Chancellor seems to be basing her concerns on.
The reality of the situation is the constant flux of circumstances makes some days better than others—just as your mother told you it would. Elections, new trade negotiations, court cases, economic reports are among the variables responsible for the ebb and flow of opportunities. Stuff happens.
Trump’s Paris farewell is not totally responsible for Chancellor Merkel’s tamping down expectations ahead of the G20 meeting. It has served to bring things to the surface that might otherwise have been discounted or even overlooked. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends upon what actions various stakeholders—individually and in consort—take in response.
Hell No…We Won’t Go
Trump was called out over his decision by many in the international community. Their calls were often accompanied by promises to do what they could to compensate for the lost leadership and cash support marking the Obama administration’s last four years, e.g. the Green Climate Fund.
The promised moral leadership will likely prove easier to make good on than the lost funds. The truth is talk can be had at a very steep discount to cash.
This is not to say there are not some very promising signs.
Newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met just three days after Trump’s announcement, to make an announcement of their own—formation of the Global Solar Alliance aimed at making solar energy accessible to all.
A conspicuous counterpoint to The Donald’s dismissal of the science and the business potential of climate change, Modi confirmed India’s commitment to the Paris Accord saying: fighting on behalf of "Mother Planet" is a gift for future generations.
India, the world's fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is a critical player in the climate pact and the future of solar and other clean energy technologies.
The Donald struck specifically at India in his Paris-leaving speech. He erroneously railed against India and the Accord for allowing it to double its coal production by 2020, while preventing the U.S. from building new coal-fired plants.
The accusation is not totally incorrect—although it fails to reflect reality. Signatory nations to the Accord are required to put forward voluntary carbon reduction targets. How they choose to meet their targets is up to them. If a nation wants to build coal-fired generators they can. However, the rules of the game require them to offset those emissions somewhere else.
Preventing the U.S. from building new coal-fired generating units are the better economics of natural gas, solar and wind. Coal is simply more expensive.
India is the 3rd largest solar market in the world and promises exponential growth well into the future. Because of the aggressive stance of the Modi government, solar power is now cheaper than coal.
There has been a huge outpouring of both outrage and promises from inside the U.S., as well as around the world. Cities, states, businesses and communities are responding vigorously in the negative to The Donald’s trumpeting the nation’s departure from the Accord.
Representing over 60 million Americans in 305 cities, #ClimateMayors has put the President on notice that they will do all they can to uphold the nation’s commitments. Joining the mayors are counties, businesses, investors, educational institutions and at least 12 states, all of whom have written Trump and the international community announcing their collective intention to stay on the Paris path.
Fortune 500 companies like Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, Mars, Inc., Bloomberg, LP, Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia signed their support for the Accord. Signatories also included investors like the Sisters of St. Joseph and The California Public Employees’ Retirement System.
Not to be left out are presidents of over 180 colleges and universities. The institutions they lead ranging from California community colleges to the Ivy League; they are institutes of art, technology and culinary science.
Without intending to, Trump has once again proven himself a great motivator. The silver lining of Trump’s dystopian depiction of the Paris Agreement may well prove its bringing together disparate stakeholders aiming to slow the pace of climate change.
The determined response of governments, businesses, manufacturers, investors, consumers and a large host of others to President Trump’s Rose Garden announcement is heartening. As joyful an answer as it may be, it should not be allowed to cloud our vision of reality.
The reality is there are problems out there—both existing and prospective—in need of solutions—all of which are not currently available. Some of these issues, e.g. economically viable carbon capture technologies, have been around since climate change became a recognized global problem.
Other barriers are a function of inadequate national policies, e.g. carbon trading markets and environmental regulation, economic, e.g. investment capital, and political, e.g. inconsistencies caused by regime changes.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) is tracking the 26 technologies it believes are required to meet the 2 degrees Celsius goal of the Paris Agreement. The array of technologies ranges from sustainable manufacturing and construction practices and products to transportation fuels and electric generation feedstocks.
According to a new IEA report nations around the globe are falling behind in all but three of the key technologies needed for a transition to a cleaner, low-emissions economy, and a lack of national policy leadership is part of the problem, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The position taken by Trump and company poses several problems. Internationally the refusal to continue funding UN climate programs is going to be problematic--both for the institution and for developing nations.
The America First budget eliminates funding for the Global Climate Change Initiative (GCCI). Through GCCI monies are directed to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). U.S. funds account for roughly 20 percent of UNFCCC’s operating budget.
In total, UN institutional funding by the U.S. amounts to roughly $6.5M annually. The sum is not so great that it can’t be replaced with funds from other nations. Trump’s refusal to contribute the $2B remaining of Obama’s pledge for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) is quite another matter.
Contrary to Trump’s accusation that no one knows where the money goes, GCF dollars finance climate-change projects in the developing world. The $2B hole created is substantial and not likely to be filled soon by other nations.
Shrinkage of sustainability funding will put the developing world between a rock and a hard place. Without this type of available “public” investment capital low and middle-income nations are left with the uncomfortable choice of slowed development or being dictated to by private capitalists; investors who may or may not put sustainability and the welfare of the nation’s citizens at or near the top of their priority lists.
The GCF was intended to leverage private capital with public. Financially such pairings can be very beneficial to both investor classes. Public funds are often used to cover the higher risk portions of a project private investors are often unwilling to make. By the same token, public investors can be assured a well-designed project will go forward with the leveraged private capital.
Involvement of the UN acts as something of a surety a project is attentive to the society it operates in. The loss of $2B is not simply the loss of $2B. It is the loss of the total of GFC funds and those funds they could have leveraged.
As the second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases what the U.S. does impacts the environment, whether it is party to the Paris Accord or not. The potentially negative impacts of the Trump administration on the global environment began the day he was sworn in.
Since his inauguration Trump and the Republican congressional majorities have rolled back or are stalling many environmental regulations enacted during the Obama years. The White House, on its own, ordered federal agencies to review a substantive number of regulations currently in force or in line to become so, e.g. the Clean Power Plan, the Waters of the U.S., methane emissions from drilling operations, et. al.
Add to this the proposed deep budget cuts in federal programs. Even should Congress restore level funding to most of the federal programs, the Administration has already succeeded in slowing Obama-era momentum.
Notwithstanding the 1200 mayors, governors, business leaders, educators and citizens vowing to stay the Paris course, Trumpsters are having and will continue to have a profound and likely negative impact on both U.S. and global efforts to rise to the 2.0 Celsius challenge.
Look for the next installment of this series when I will be discussing federal preemption of state clean energy and environmental policies and programs.
Featured from the good folks at Unsplash: Yolanda Sun Unsplash 44478
Pie Graph Source: Boden, T.A., Marland, G., and Andres, R.J. (2017). National CO2 Emissions from Fossil-Fuel Burning, Cement Manufacture, and Gas Flaring: 1751-2014, Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, doi 10.3334/CDIAC/00001_V2017.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.