Trump Retreats from Climate Action at G7 Energy Meeting

President Trump want to roll back international climate action in parallel with his disastrous attempts to roll back domestic climate action.

President Trump has launched disastrous attempts to roll back domestic climate action and attempts to roll back international climate action through budget cuts. Plus, Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently said that the U.S. is reconsidering U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement and that the White House will make an announcement before the G-7 meeting in late May. In the meantime, the Trump administration has decided that it wants to decimate climate policies at home while it tries to coerce the rest of the world into following suit.

Let’s be clear—staying in the Paris Agreement is the bare minimum that this Administration must do. Rather than retreating from the challenge, the US should be joining the 190+ nations committed to the Paris Agreement in trying to strengthen climate action.

Here are all the ways the Trump Administration wants to roll back international climate action, with reference to the recent minister-level meeting of the G7.

1. The Trump Administration refuses to reaffirm the Paris Agreement

The Italian chair of the G7 meeting said that all other G7 ministers “reaffirmed their commitment towards the implementation of the Paris Agreement” while U.S. Energy Secretary Perry reversed the U.S. position from the previous year and refused to say that the U.S. would support the Paris Agreement. That would be a costly decision for the U.S. in the long run.

2. Perry and Trump Administration confuses universal energy access with championing fossil fuels

At the G7 meeting this week in Italy, Energy Secretary Rick Perry suggested that what the world needs is more fossil fuel development. He championed “high-efficiency, low-emission coal.” Unfortunately the myth of clean coal that Perry champions isn’t even accepted by citizens of the world’s largest coal exporter, Australia. Developed nations like Canada, France and Germany have announced plans to phase out coal.

If Perry truly wanted to make sure “that economic growth and the environment can successfully go hand-in-hand,” then he wouldn’t champion coal—he would champion renewable energy resources. Mining coal, especially in developing nations without sufficient environmental safeguards, causes pollution and an increased subsequent incidence of heart and respiratory diseases like asthma and lung cancer. That’s exactly the case in Zimbabwe, where years of coal mining and coal dust inhalation have caused respiratory diseases like pneumoconiosis, ruined local vegetation, and contaminated the soil with cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel, tin, arsenic and antimony—which are toxic even at low concentrations.

3. Perry seeks lower standards for lending of multilateral development banks

The horrific health and environmental impacts, plus significant cost overruns and climate impacts, are part of the reason multilateral development banks like the World Bank, EIB and EBRD have limited investments in coal power and increased investments in renewable energy. Unfortunately, Secretary Perry stepped outside of his wheelhouse to encourage multilateral development bank lending for coal plants overseas—something that would harm developing nations (while equipment manufacturers for coal plants from Japan, Korea, China, the US and other developed nations turn a profit). This irresponsible suggestion would lock developing nations into highly-polluting energy sources when better, cheaper alternatives already exist.

4. Perry and the Trump Administration grossly underestimate global and U.S. renewable energy markets

Secretary Perry has a loose grasp on global clean energy markets. He argued that policies are needed to “help renewables become competitive with traditional sources of energy”—with the false underlying premise that fossil fuels are always the cheaper option. What he neglected to mention was that fossil fuels are heavily subsidized around the world against their competition. In fact the the U.S. government provides fossil fuel subsidies to the tune of over $10 billion dollars a year. Plus, Perry doesn’t factor in the significant health costs of associated diseases or fatalities or environmental costs of contamination from toxic chemicals. Yet, despite the heavy subsidization of fossil fuels, global renewable energy investments in the power sector reached $288 billion in 2016, or 70 percent of investments—far outpacing power sector investment in fossil fuels. Renewables are already competitive. For instance, the record low bids of $0.04/kWh for a 750 megawatt solar plant in India helped validate the Indian government’s decision to cancel four coal power plants. India, unlike Secretary Perry, already knows that clean energy will be better for meeting India’s rising energy demands.

This week’s announcements at the G7 are just one part of the Trump Administration’s crusade to stop international climate action. Other efforts like the attempt to gut the U.S. government’s budget for international climate action would be similarly disastrous. Fortunately, world leaders remain committed to climate action. This White House will soon find out that being an international climate pariah makes it harder to negotiate abroad on other issues too.