President Trump's "America First Energy Plan" will, ironically, put the US far behind China and India in the push to modernise its energy grid. China and India are both on track to "overachieve" their Paris Climate Agreement goals of de-carbonising their energy grids by 2030, according to the Climate Action Tracker study released Monday. Of the world's top three carbon emitters — China, India and the US — only the US is setting itself up to potentially fail its target goal.
Amazingly, global emissions may still fall going forward, even without the US's commitment. The study reports the benefits from China and India's aggressive decarbonisation "significantly outweigh" the US's clean energy failures.
When the US entered the Paris Agreement under former President Obama, it was seen as a global leader on climate change. That's quickly been reversed under President Trump, who is considering withdrawing the US from the agreement entirely. The new study, a collaboration between Dutch climate consultants Ecofys and non profits Climate Analytics and NewClimate Institute, emphasises the significant impact abandonment of America's climate pledges would have.
"The highly adverse rollbacks of US climate policies by the Trump Administration, if fully implemented and not compensated by other actors, are projected to flatten US emissions instead of continuing on a downward trend," Niklas Höhne, of NewClimate Institute, said in a press release.
In a speech yesterday full of half-truths, demi-truths and, of course, alternative facts, US President Trump doubled down on his campaign promise to reinvigorate America's long-ailing coal and steel industries, promising that under his administration "dying industries will come roaring back to life". Sure. Meanwhile, in a move that more closely reflects market reality, China announced it is cutting 500,000 coal and steel jobs as it begins shifting its economy away from heavy manufacturing.
According to the study, China and India have accelerated reaching their goal by taking advantage of the shifting energy market, cutting utility reliance on coal, slashing hundreds of thousands of mining jobs, and investing heavily in renewable energy. Astonishingly, the study projects China may have already met its Paris Agreement goal of peaking its CO2 emissions by 2030 . The country's carbon emissions have steadily decreased since 2014, and are on track to continue falling. China has set global records for investment in both wind and solar energy sources.
India, meanwhile, is doubling down on the falling price of solar energy, substituting solar panels for new coal-fired plants. As a result, the study projects a staggering 57 per cent of its electricity capacity may come from renewables by 2027, much higher than the 40 per cent by 2030 India set as its Paris Agreement goal.
The US, as part of Trump's plan to put itself "first", is doubling down on fossil fuels — repealing Obama-era climate policies and taking aim at the Clean Power Plan, the state-by-state series of energy goals meant to keep the US on track to meet its Paris Agreement pledge of reducing carbon emissions by 32 per cent by 2030. Both Trump and EPA head, Scott Pruitt, have rallied against the agreement as an example of federal overreach and part of a "war on coal". Pruitt famously called Paris a "bad deal" for the US because "China and India had no obligations... until 2030", wilfully misinterpreting the language of the agreement.
The architect of the Clean Power Plan, Janet McCabe, previously explained to Gizmodo that the goal was simply to codify the clean energy transition already changing the US power sector — less reliance on coal, more reliance on natural gas and renewables. Basically, exactly what China and India are doing. The US, in fact, was on track to reach its climate goal, even in states that joined Pruitt in a lawsuit to block the Clean Power Plan. But Trump's rollback of regulations looks to squash that.
As a silver lining, the study points to two factors that may keep the US afloat, somewhat, in reducing carbon emissions. First, Trump can't simply "exit" the Paris Agreement — it's a lengthy, bureaucratic process that, ironically (or intentionally), takes four years. Also, several US states, including California and New York, remain committed to the targets of the Clean Power Plan and are even trying to exceed them.
Ultimately, carbon is not the only dangerous greenhouse gas that needs to be reined in — there's also methane and nitrous oxide, for example. The Paris Agreement is, in reality, just one part of the fight against global warming. We're only in the beginning stages of this fight, and the "America First" policy is seemingly dragging everyone down.