””

Commentary

Trump's move won't derail climate pact

United States President Donald Trump's decision to back out of the Paris climate agreement is reckless and short-sighted. But his announcement won't torpedo the 2015 accord, which was signed by nearly 200 nations and united the globe in fighting global warming.

The withdrawal, which will take several years to effect, does not speak for all of America. It will not bring back jobs in the coal sector or the manufacturing sector that he is championing. And there will not be a renegotiation of the Paris Agreement, despite Mr Trump's statement that he is open to deal-making. The agreement was more than two decades in the making and the largely voluntary nature of the Paris pact was designed in part to meet US requirements - a legally binding treaty would have been rejected by Congress. Several European Union leaders have told Mr Trump there will be no renegotiation.

Mr Trump will be reminded that the US, the world's No. 2 greenhouse gas polluter after China, has a global and moral responsibility to lead the effort to cut planet-warming emissions resulting from fossil fuels. Historically, the US has emitted far more pollution from burning coal, oil and gas than any other nation. That fact seems to be ignored by Mr Trump and his anti-climate pact supporters in Washington and a handful of coal-mining states.

He also seems oblivious to the huge shift in the US economy towards cleaner energy that is dooming the coal sector, which he has vowed to revive as a symbol of saving American jobs. But those jobs are gone and are not coming back, in part because power generators are shifting to cheaper and more efficient shale gas and competitive renewable energy.

Get The Straits Times
newsletters in your inbox

According to US government data, the coal industry employed 76,572 people in 2014, the latest year for which data is available, and the sector has been in decline for years.

In contrast, clean energy jobs are booming.

Protesters gathered in front of the White House on Thursday to oppose Mr Trump's decision to withdraw the US from the Paris accord.
Protesters gathered in front of the White House on Thursday to oppose Mr Trump's decision to withdraw the US from the Paris accord. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The US Department of Energy said that last year, nearly 374,000 people worked, in whole or in part, for solar firms, with more than 260,000 of those employees spending the majority of their time on solar. In addition, there were 102,000 people employed in wind firms across the nation. The solar workforce increased by 25 per cent last year, while wind employment increased by 32 per cent.

 

  • REACTIONS FROM THE U.S.

    Even in the absence of American leadership, even as this administration joins a small handful of nations that reject the future, I am confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way, and help protect for future generations the one planet we have got.

    FORMER PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

    By withdrawing from this unattainable mandate, President Trump has reiterated his commitment to protecting middle-class families across the country and workers throughout coal country from higher energy prices and potential job loss.

    SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL

    Pulling out of the Paris Agreement doesn't put America first. It puts America last in recognising science, in being a world leader and protecting our shore line, our economy and our planet.

    SENATE MINORITY LEADER CHARLES SCHUMER


    FROM EUROPE

    I call on you to remain confident. We will succeed. Because we are fully committed, because wherever we live, whoever we are, we all share the same responsibility: Make our planet great again.

    FRENCH PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON

    The decision of the US to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement is very regrettable, and I am expressing myself in a very reserved way when I say that. We need this Paris Agreement to preserve our creation. Nothing can or will stop us from doing that.

    GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL

    The Paris Agreement provides the right global framework for protecting the prosperity and security of future generations, while keeping energy affordable and secure for our citizens and businesses.

    BRITISH PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY


    FROM ASIA

    We remain committed to undertaking the measures needed to achieve our Paris pledge, including implementing a carbon tax from 2019. We stand ready to work with all parties and stakeholders to address this urgent challenge together.

    SINGAPORE'S NATIONAL CLIMATE CHANGE SECRETARIAT

    I am remarkably disappointed in a decision that defies the wisdom of humankind.

    JAPANESE ENVIRONMENT MINISTER KOICHI YAMAMOTO

    We will earnestly implement our obligations... This is a responsibility shouldered by China as a responsible major country and what China's development calls for.

    CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN HUA CHUNYING


    FROM BUSINESSES

    Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government.

    GENERAL ELECTRIC CEO JEFF IMMELT

    Energy needs are a function of population and living standards. When it comes to policy, the goal should be to reduce emissions at the lowest cost to society.

    EXXON CEO DARREN WOODS

    Today's decision is a setback for the environment and for the US' leadership position in the world.

    GOLDMAN SACHS GROUP'S CEO AND CHAIRMAN LLOYD BLANKFEIN

    Disappointed with today's decision. Google will keep working hard for a cleaner, more prosperous future for all.

    GOOGLE CEO SUNDAR PICHAI

    Withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement is bad for the environment, bad for the economy, and it puts our children's future at risk... Stopping climate change is something we can do only as a global community, and we have to act together before it is too late.

    FACEBOOK CEO MARK ZUCKERBERG

Data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows coal's share of total US electricity generation has dropped from about 45 per cent in 2010 to 32 per cent now, while that of renewable energy has risen from 10 per cent in 2010 to 15 per cent this year. Gas has risen from 24 per cent to about 32 per cent now.

EIA data also shows that for the hundreds of new power plants planned for completion from this year to 2027, the vast majority are solar, wind, battery storage and gas. This underscores the growing shift towards clean energy in the US.

In many other ways, Mr Trump's decision shows he is out of touch with much of the US.

Major US corporations, including Apple, Facebook, Google, The Hartford, Gap Inc, Microsoft and PG&E Corp, urged Mr Trump this week to stay in the Paris Agreement. Even energy giants ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips voiced their support for the accord.

In response to Mr Trump's announcement, the mayors of more than 60 US cities promised to meet commitments agreed to under the accord. And the governors of New York, California and Washington states announced the formation of the US Climate Alliance, also pledging to meet the US emissions reduction pledges under the Paris Agreement.

"If the President is going to be AWOL in this profoundly important human endeavour, then California and other states will step up," said California Governor Jerry Brown.

This strong show of defiance underscores that, nationally, the US is cutting back emissions regardless of what happens in the White House - an important signal to the rest of the globe. But Mr Trump's announcement still risks hurting the sector.

Internationally, he is also isolated. He has just ceded a key leadership role to China and the EU, which have both pledged to fully implement the Paris Agreement, a vital sign that the pact will survive.

India, too, is backing the Paris pact and the need to curb the growth of fossil fuel emissions. It sees renewables as a way to bring electricity to hundreds of millions of people without the deadly pollution that chokes many of its larger cities.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi summed up his feelings this week when he said that failing to act on climate change would be "morally criminal".

By withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, Mr Trump has tarnished America's image and put at risk investments in the clean energy sector.

For someone keen to promote jobs, that is a very bad deal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 03, 2017, with the headline 'Trump's move won't derail climate pact'. Print Edition | Subscribe