Wen Jiajun: Trump has it all wrong on climate change and China


Your Present Location :Home > LATEST INSIGHTS

Wen Jiajun: Trump has it all wrong on climate change and China


By Wen Jiajun     Source: Global Times    Published: 2017-6-12


On June 1, 2017, US President Donald Trump announced his country`s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change. Not surprisingly, in his White House speech, he referred to China many times as an excuse for the US pullout. He said that the Paris Agreement was unfair to the US, and that he would begin negotiations to re-enter the agreement or an entirely new deal on terms more beneficial to the US.

Using China as a scapegoat is nothing new in climate negotiations; on this point Trump has indeed inherited the "legacy" of the Obama administration, especially from its first term. When the 2009 Copenhagen climate negotiations failed, Europe and the US launched a big public campaign, saying that China`s obstruction was one of the major reasons for its failure.

More than six years have passed. The Chinese government has made persistent efforts to tackle climate change. Yet the US government is once again using China, India and other developing countries as an excuse for its own inaction. So it is time to set the record straight and debunk Trump`s excuses and false accusations.

Trump only expects the US renewable energy growth rate to be somewhere between 1 percent and 4 percent. In 2015, China`s solar and wind power capacity increased by 74 percent and 34 percent respectively, and its coal consumption fell by 3.7 percent, while its economy grew by 7 percent. If China can do this, why does the US have to be so slow to develop its renewables? Is it putting "America First" as Trump often claims, or is it pushing the US backward?

Trump said the Paris Agreement would only result in a reduction of 0.2 degrees in the global temperature rise by 2100. This is completely wrong. The Paris Agreement does not establish the contributions of emissions reductions all the way up to 2100. The current nationally determined contributions are set for 2025 or 2030. Therefore, it is impossible to make any credible forecast for the reduction of emissions by 2100.

Climate change is caused by accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. When we look at cumulative emissions since 1850, the US is the prime culprit with 29 percent of the total, while China has discharged about 9 percent, Russia about 8 percent and Germany around 7 percent. Even if we only consider the current level of emissions rather than the cumulative emissions that are causing climate change, the US per capita emissions in 2013 came to about 18.7 tons, while for China it was 7.6 tons and for India, 1.6 tons. The US, China, India and other countries should take into account their contribution to climate change and their ability to solve the problems. In this aspect, the weak pledges by the Obama administration came to far less than the fair share of responsibility for the US, and Trump would even overturn this weak commitment.

Trump blamed the Paris Agreement for the problems of the US coal industry, which is totally misleading. The agreement does not stipulate at all which countries can use coal and which can not. Each country`s emission reduction contribution is nationally determined.

The widespread disappearance of coal jobs in the last several decades has been caused, first and foremost, by large-scale mechanized production driven by technology change and promoted by coal companies to increase profits. In more recent years, competition from the natural gas industry has played a pivotal role as well. With or without climate measures, coal jobs will not come back. It is inevitable for such a sunset industry, and the same is true everywhere in the world. Environmental regulations only play a small role in the decline of coal. If Trump is really concerned about the economy and employment in traditional coal-producing areas such as Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, he would support economic and energy transformation rather than cutting back on multiple programs needed by the community to fund tax cuts for the rich. His de1111ion of China is also wrong. China has halted work on more than 100 planned or partly built coal-fired power plants, and is expected to cut 1.3 million coal jobs amid the country`s ongoing economic restructuring. China has been the biggest investor in renewables for five consecutive years and plans to invest $361 billion in the renewable sector by 2020.  

Trump`s claim that pulling out of the Paris Agreement would help the US economy and jobs is also questionable. According to the US Energy and Employment Report issued by the US Department of Energy in January 2017, solar power employment accounts for 43 percent of the US 2016 electric power generation industry`s workforce, while fossil fuels (including coal, oil and gas) accounted for 22 percent of the total. Coal power generation indeed experienced a substantial decline in the past decade, a decrease of 53 percent; during the same period, natural gas power generation increased by 33 percent, and solar power generation increased by 5,000 percent. It is estimated that the solar industry added 73,615 new jobs to the US economy in 2016 and wind added another 24,650, while the total employment from coal is 86,035.

Energy innovation is proving itself as an important driver of economic growth, both worldwide and in America. However, with his fixation on coal, Trump overlooks this important trend.

The author is a visiting fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.