Allcot’s CEO Alexis Leroy’s opinion on Trumps Paris pull-out

2nd June 2017 by CMIA


Donald Trump’s decision to quit the Paris Agreement is a blow to global climate action, let’s be clear. But it’s not the disaster that some are painting it to be.

Nations have been gathering the strength and determination to act on global warming since the disastrous Copenhagen summit in 2009 when the world economy was plunging into the biggest depression it has ever experienced.

The unsatisfactory outcome of that meeting laid the foundations for a slow and steady process of negotiation that culminated in the Paris triumph just two years ago.

But it wasn’t just politics that got us there.

In those six years, support for climate action grew out from and beyond the NGO community and was embraced by the private sector and the wider public. Big utilities and industrial power consumers all saw for themselves that fossil fuels were being marginalised by the emergence of rapidly-cheapening alternatives.

Since 2009, renewable energy has gone from an expensive fringe technology to a financially competitive model that can support baseload demand. In May 2016, the entire country of Portugal was powered by a combination of wind, solar and hydro power for 107 hours – that’s four consecutive days.

The International Energy Agency, which has a healthy track record of underestimating the growth in zero-carbon energy, last October raised its forecast for renewable energy growth by 13%. The agency expects the cost of solar photovoltaic panels to drop by 25% by 2021, and onshore wind farms to become 15% cheaper.

Make no mistake; these factors were all in negotiators’ minds as they crafted the Paris Agreement. While in Copenhagen nobody knew whether we would have enough money to decarbonise our industries, by the time we got to Paris the numbers were becoming clear and convincing.

In the US, the emergence of shale gas has dealt a hammer blow to coal’s chances of recovering under President Trump. No utility is considering building a coal plant right now, because it just doesn’t make financial sense.

Nor does it make regulatory sense. What utility executive is going to approve a new 40- or 50-year asset that may well become obsolete under Trump’s successor in as little as four years?

Elsewhere in the developed world, coal is in retreat: in the UK, which will close its last coal-fired power by 2023; in Germany, which is slowly approaching the challenge of phasing out lignite generation; in China, where hundreds of coal plant projects are being cancelled; and in India, where the country’s energy ministry says that no new coal plants will be needed before 2021. By then of course, they may never be needed.

Even oil is under threat. While oil companies are busy telling us that the outlook for oil demand is rosy, they’re busy setting up alternative energy divisions, or shifting some of their capital into renewable energy businesses.

Electric vehicles are booming, though to be fair they’re starting from a low base. But forward-looking countries like Norway already have significant electric car fleets, and China is already a world leader.

All of these things have happened without Trump, and they will go on without him. US states and private companies are lining up to fill the policy void that quitting Paris will create at the top of the US government.

California is working to re-authorise its carbon market past 2020, as are nine states in the northeast. Oregon, Washington and Virginia are all at work on rules to limit carbon emissions through a market mechanism. And many more are setting ambitious targets for renewable energy.

Twenty-five of the biggest companies in the US, including Apple, Google, Morgan Stanley and Mars – took out a full-page advertisement in today’s Wall Street Journal urging the President to keep the US in Paris. They understand the value and importance of the commitments that nations have made.

What will the US withdrawal from Paris mean? It’ll mean there is no formal, government-sanctioned target for US emissions reductions. It might possibly mean climate-related trade sanctions against the US (but we’ll let the WTO decide on that).

It will mean the US taking a back seat at UNFCCC negotiations, but they have plenty of experience with that from the years of the George W. Bush presidency. And of course, it will mean the US doesn’t contribute its share of the financial assistance that developed countries promised to make available.

It won’t, however, mean that global climate action grinds to a halt. It will mean that other countries step up and assume leadership in the absence of the US. So perhaps we should all just shrug our shoulders and get back to work.

In 2007, at the UNFCCC summit in Bali, Indonesia, the US negotiators threatened to hold up progress in the talks. Kevin Conrad, the delegate from Papua New Guinea, earned an ovation from 195 nations when he addressed the US delegation thus:

“We ask for your leadership,” he said. “But if for some reason you’re not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way.”

Perhaps Mr Conrad could put a call into the White House today.