The US Shouldn’t Have Left The Paris Agreement

Trump Paris

President Donald Trump announcing the US to abandon the Paris Climate Agreement, June 1, 2017 ((c) CNN)

It was “a collosal mistake,” says the US think tank World Resources Institute of the most recent statement on June 1, 2017, by US President Donald Trump to abandon the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.  I agree with WRI’s sentiment.  The US shouldn’t have left the Paris Agreement.  It might be bad for the world, but it would be worse for the US itself.

Apparently a part of “America First” policy, Trump’s strongest reason to abandon Paris was that it would not be fair to the US. Trump claimed that he was “elected by the citizen of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” emphasizing that his domestic constituents that mattered.

Trump  complained that Paris costs the US an 86 percent reduction in coal production, among others.  He also accused of other countries as free riding.  China, for example, could increase emissions for the next 13 years.  India is allowed to double coal production by 2020.  Citing an MIT study, apparently wrongly, he also said that Paris would only contribute to an insignificant 0.2 degree reduction of temperature by 2100 when fully implemented.

As such, the US would cease from implementing the Agreement domestically, and from contributing to the Green Climate Fund.  The US has paid $1 billion of its pledge of $3 billion contribution towards the present $10 billion capitalization target.  Indeed, Trump also stated that the US would be open to  “… reenter either the Paris Accord or an entirely new transactions.”  But it’s not at all that simple.

Emmanuel Macron, the recently-elected President of France, the country that hosted the climate conference that produced the Agreement, slammed the decision.  Barack Obama, former President of the US, also didn’t think it was a good idea, so was Felipe Calderon, former President of Mexico.  Even the business community weren’t at all happy.  Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, Brad Smith of Microsoft, Elon Musk of Tesla, and many others were all disappointed.  Prior, more than 200 global investors representing more than $15 trillion in assets under management have written to urge G7 heads to stand by their commitments to the Paris Agreement.  Ironically, they were to whom Trump claimed that Paris was not fair.  Here’s my take on the Agreement, and why it is fair.  And why Trump’s decision is wrong.

Climate Change is Disastrous

Climate change is possibly the biggest environmental threat.  It is a phenomenon when atmospheric temperature increases to unsustainable levels, leading to various disasters such as sea level rise, disruption of hydrological cycle that eventually destroys agricultural productivity, and increased health problems.  Climate change happens due to the increased atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases, mainly due to emissions from fossil fuel burning.

Paris was the result of a 25 years process.  Paris aims to hold the increase of the global temperature to “well below 2 oC” (and pursue efforts to limit it to only 1.5 oC) above pre-industrial levels (before 1850), increase the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change, and make financing available from developed countries to allow developing countries to follow low-carbon development pathways.

The largest element of Paris is the so-called Nationally-Determined Contribution (NDC), which was, as it says, determined by the countries.  Markedly different from its predecessor the Kyoto Protocol, it is entirely country-driven.  The US pledged to reduce its emissions by about 28 percent by 2020 from their 2005 levels.

It is admitted that full implementation of Paris will not be sufficient.  The world needs to limit yearly emissions at 42 billion tons (gigatons, gt), reduced from today’s 49 gt to limit temperature increase to 2 oC.  Paris would only limit emissions to 56 gt.  Hence we need more than twice as ambitious reductions than presently.  This is also why all countries are asked to report on a new NDC by 2020, and every five years from then on, supposedly increasingly stronger.

The fact that the planet is warming is no longer debatable.  The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) pointed out that 2016 was not only the warmest year on record, but it also experienced the rise of carbon dioxide concentration to a new high while the Arctic sea winter ice recorded a new low.  The WMO further stated that the “extreme and unusual” climate and weather trends have continued into 2017.

Trump didn’t argue the science behind his decision.  His citing of an MIT study was also misplaced.  While the 0.2 oC figure was the difference that Paris made from the previous talk, MIT also made the point that without Paris, the no-action scenario would see the world to be nearly 1 oC warmer.

But the World Is Moving On

Trump will not be able to stop the runaway train of technological change. As the stone age did not end because we’re running out of stone, the world will see the end of fossil fuel age not because we are out of fossil fuels.  The financial world has already been made aware of the so-called “stranded asset risks” in investing in fossil fuels.  Not only due to present and future policy limitations, emergence of new — and usually better and cheaper — technologies like renewable energy will make fossil fuels obsolete way too early.  The price of renewable was already 23 percent cheaper in 2016 than it was in 2015.  Even today, renewable is cheaper than coal in about 60 countries.  Outcompeted in several fronts, the fall of the prices of coal and oil are the best witness to this.

Jim Barry from BlackRock told The Australian Financial Review that “coal is dead.”  BlackRock is the largest investment group in the world with $5 trillion assets under management, based in the US.  BlackRock is aggressively building its renewable portfolio to reach $1.7 billion.  Global investment in renewable energy industry has skyrocketed to more than $300 billion annually from a mere $20 billion a decade ago, and more than twice the annual investment in fossil fuels.  As for the fossil fuel industry, according to think tank Carbon Tracker, aligning their productions with climate targets may increase their worth by $140 billion more.

Many countries have already been aware of this.  As reported by Clean Technica, Germany leads the world in Solar photovoltaic capacity.  The cloudy Germany once met 78 percent of a day’s power demand from renewables.  In Scotland, 97 percent of its households’ energy needs could already be met by electricity produced wind in 2015.  Denmark received 42 percent of its electricity from wind turbines in 2015, and is aiming to be 100 percent fossil fuel free by 2050.  By now, 37 percent of new cars sold in Norway is electric.  It is expected to reach 100 percent only in 8 years.

The developing world is actually not too far behind.  Costa Rica aims to be entirely carbon neutral by 2021.  Nicaragua aims for 90 percent renewable energy by 2020.  It already reached 54 percent by 2015, and is close to 80 percent soon.  Nicaragua is the fifth largest country according to the percentage of its income invested in renewables.  Uruguay can already meet 95 percent of its energy from renewables.  Morocco started a project to build the largest concentrated solar power in the world.  It will eventually meet half of its electricity demand.  Kenya, an African country, had geothermal to contribute 51 percent of its energy demand already by 2015.  It is also building the largest wind farm in Africa — 310 megawatts — to contribute a further 20 percent to the mix.

China, the largest carbon emitter in the world, had the most installed wind energy capacity, much larger than the runner up, and the second largest installed solar photovoltaic, in the world. These are larger that the US.  Moreover, China has just abandoned 103 coal power plant under planning and development (even those already under construction) amounting a total of 35 gigawatts.

Carbon emissions need not be associated with economic strains.  More than 20 countries around the world bear witness that they can grow while reducing emissions.  For example, between 2000 and 2014, Denmark grew its economy by 8 percent while reducing emissions by 30 percent.  France, Germany, Switzerland, and Ireland grew its economy by 16, 16, 28, and 47 percent while reducing emissions by 19, 12, 10, and 16 percent, respectively.  Even the US has grown by 28 percent while reducing emissions by 2 percent in that period.

Prior, The US Had Been On The Right Track

The US has actually gone on a good track with renewables.  A new solar energy system was installed every two-and-a-half minutes in 2014, the fifth largest installed solar photovoltaic capacity globally.  America has the second-largest installed wind energy capacity in the world — second to China, of all countries.  Renewable energy has already been the fastest-growing industry in the US employing far more people than coal mining industry.  The US could actually reduce its emissions by 80 in only 15 years without costing the economy by using more renewables, as a new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) study reveals.  Pulling out of Paris will leave the US in the dust in this global technological revolution.

Trump will stop contributing to the Green Climate Fund, citing that it’s unfair.  But he failed to address that half of the fund was to pay for adaptation to climate change that are gravely needed by vulnerable and poor countries.  They indeed have low capability to pay to protect themselves from the dire impacts of climate change, those that also have the least responsibility to the causes of climate change.

Only two countries besides the US that stand outside of Paris.  Nicaragua because it decided that it had a much more ambitious target than Paris, and Syria because, well, Syria.

Ironically, when Trump stated that he was “elected by the citizen of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” he forgot that, first, 80 percent of the citizens of Pittsburgh didn’t vote for him.  And second, even the mayor of Pittsburgh Bill Peduto bucked Trump, saying that Pittsburgh will continue its journey towards 100 percent renewables.  And Paris Agreement is not about Paris, France.  It is about this planet.  Our only planet, including President Trump’s.

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