Trump's Paris Withdrawal Cedes Global Leadership to China

It’s no hoax: by recklessly withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, Trump has just ceded the race for global leadership to China. Not only has he weakened American influence in the world, he has also damaged our relationship with some of our most important allies who no longer believe they can rely on the U.S. as a partner. Inexplicably – and opposed by the vast majority of American businesses – Trump has also handcuffed the U.S.’ ability to compete with China in the biggest market opportunity of the century: clean energy.

Meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement can fuel a $19 trillion surge in additional economic growth over the next 30 years. Global investment in renewable power capacity in 2016 was roughly double that in new fossil fuel generation. Low-carbon development is also fueling enormous investment in cleaner, more efficient homes, buildings, materials, and transportation. The U.S. is currently competitive in all of these areas. Yet by pulling out of the Paris Agreement, the United States is the only country (well, except for Nicaragua and Syria) saying "no" to the massive economic opportunities that accompany the transition to a clean energy future. And China is more than happy to step in to the breach.

The handful of Trump’s fossil fuel cronies who called for withdrawal from the Paris Agreement claims that it is necessary to protect American jobs and economic competitiveness, but nothing could be further than the truth. To the contrary, as China is already demonstrating, clean energy is a powerful engine for job growth, economic development, and affordable energy.

Jobs: In the United States, more people were employed in solar power last year than in generating electricity through coal, gas, and oil energy combined.  The fastest-growing job in the United States is wind energy technician, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics projections. What Trump needs to do is connect the talent and skills of workers in transition to the opportunities created in the clean energy economy. Instead, by walking away from the Paris Agreement, Trump is betraying every American who believed he would create jobs.

China, the global leader in renewable energy investment, also leads the world in clean energy jobs, with 3.64 million jobs in 2016. China recently announced it would spend over $360 billion on clean energy in just the next three years, creating an additional 13 million jobs. China has also committed to spend at least $15 billion on worker retraining over the next two years.

IRENA/Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review 2017

Economic Competitiveness: China used to build two coal plants every week. Now, every hour, China erects another wind turbine and installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field, according to Greenpeace estimates. The country now leads the world in wind and solar power capacity, and Trump has opened the door for China to capture an increasing share of this fast growing world market.

REN21/Renewables 2016 Global Status Report

Affordable Energy: Thanks in part to China’s manufacturing, the costs of wind and solar are dropping precipitously, making them increasingly competitive with coal, oil and gas. Solar and wind are now the same price or cheaper than new fossil fuel capacity over 30 countries. According to the World Economic Forum, two-thirds of all countries will reach grid parity within a few years. And some experts project that solar will drop to half the price of electricity from coal or natural gas within a decade or two. Why is Trump placing his bets on dirty fossil fuels that are on the way out, and leaving our children to pay the price?

China, along with dozens of other countries around the world, has reaffirmed its commitment to the Paris Agreement. According to a People’s Daily posting on Facebook yesterday:

Climate change is a worldwide challenge and no nation can stay away.  China will fulfill the Paris Climate Accord, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying reassured the world, as the U.S. President Donald J. Trump announced on Thursday that the U.S. will start years-long process to withdraw from Paris Climate Agreement.

"No matter what changes may happen to other countries' position on the Paris Climate Accord, China will continue to pursue the concept of innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared development, taking concrete measures and strengthening active steps domestically to counter climate change, and seriously fulfill the Paris Climate Accord,” Hua said.

The spokesperson noted the Paris agreement advocated the green, low-carbon, and sustainable development.

“China will continue to work with the EU to strengthen communication and cooperation on climate change, and push forward the multilateral governance process in this regard,” she added.

But Donald Trump has decided to turn his back on America’s future and the future of our planet.

About the Authors

Barbara Finamore

Senior Strategic Director, Asia

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