Why Trump's climate decision won't stop the world

Why Trump's climate decision won't stop the world
© Getty

President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement may have little impact outside of U.S. borders. 

Foreign heads of state denounced Trump’s decision and, so far, none of the nearly 200 other nations that signed onto the pact have suggested that they will abandon it.

Here are three reasons why Trump’s move might not be the game changer it seems.

Clean energy will keep growing

Once a niche industry, renewable and other clean forms of energy are booming around the globe.

ADVERTISEMENT
Thanks in part to investments in research and development, renewable energy now makes good business sense in much of the world.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that in 2013, the most recent year it studied, 22 percent of global electricity was from renewable sources. IEA forecasts that will reach 26 percent in 2020.

The United States’ Energy Information Administration said last year that renewables are the fastest-growing energy source worldwide.

China has been ground zero for renewable energy growth, topping the world in investment, solar panel installations and wind capacity. India has also seen rapid growth.

“These are really strong signs that momentum is already on the side of clean energy and the blip of Trump pulling out of the Paris agreement is not going to be enough to stop the momentum that’s already been gained,” said Angel Hsu, a professor of environmental studies at Yale-NUS College who studies China’s energy policy.

The international growth in clean energy was a key factor that business leaders mentioned to Trump when trying to convince him to stay in the Paris accord.

They argued that while staying in would help U.S. businesses take a leading role in the growth of clean energy, exiting would cede that position to other nations.

In addition to the Paris decision, Trump is proposing other policies that could hurt renewable energies, including slashing funding for research and development at the Energy Department.

Natural gas remains cheap and plentiful

In addition to the growth of renewables, the other major factor in cutting greenhouse gases worldwide in the last decade has been cheap natural gas.

It’s an area where the United States is leading, having become the top natural gas producer in the world. 

Drilling techniques like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have greatly increased worldwide gas supplies, sending prices down. That has spurred electric utilities and other energy users to drop coal in favor of natural gas, which emits around half of the carbon dioxide as coal when burned. 

While the United States is dominating in production and in the new drilling techniques, the price declines have been felt around the world.

With so much gas being produced, United States companies have started exporting gas to foreign markets.

The same day Trump announced the Paris pullout, the Energy Department approved an application by Delfin LNG to export natural gas from a terminal off Louisiana’s coasts, one of numerous export projects awaiting federal approval. 

Natural gas isn’t a panacea for climate change, however. It still emits carbon dioxide when burned, and its main component, methane, is around 80 times more potent than carbon as a greenhouse gas. 

U.S. allies aren’t eager to follow Trump

Some supporters of the Paris deal had feared that Trump’s exit from the accord would set a precedent that other nations, particularly U.S. allies, would follow. 

The fear was that a U.S. withdrawal would start a domino effect, causing the deal to fall apart.

But there’s no indication that that scenario is playing out.

In fact, leaders of numerous nations, such as Italy, Germany, France, China and India, made clear that they would stay the course and remain in the pact.

“We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris agreement cannot be renegotiated, since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies,” the leaders of Italy, Germany and France wrote in a joint statement. 

“We therefore reaffirm our strongest commitment to swiftly implement the Paris agreement, including its climate finance goals and we encourage all our partners to speed up their action to combat climate change.” 

While Russian President Vladimir Putin downplayed Trump's exit and declared “don’t worry, be happy,” Russia is also staying in the deal and predicting that no one will follow Trump’s lead. 

“I don’t think that there will be any chain reaction from other countries,” Russian Energy Minister Alexandr Novak told state media