Tuesday

28th Mar 2017

Trump cannot deny business case for clean energy, says EU official

  • Ahead of Trump's inauguration, American activists took to the street to call for climate action (Photo: 350.org)

While the European Union “may not be happy” about many climate-related decisions by the US president, American businesses are moving towards clean energy anyway, the EU's highest civil servant on climate action said on Wednesday (25 January).

“Of course we don't know the details of what Mr Trump is going to sign today or tomorrow or the day after,” said Jos Delbeke, director-general of the European Commission's climate action department, at an event in Brussels organised by the European Policy Centre, a think tank.

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“But there is one reality that may also be a reality where even Mr Trump cannot go against. That is that the business dynamics is as active in the United States as it is in Europe or elsewhere," he said.

Delbeke said American companies were “very active” in the sector of renewable energy, like solar panels and wind turbines, because it represented “a good business case, and lots of jobs”.

“On average ten times more jobs are created in the renewables sector compared to coal mining or coal-fired power generation,” said Delbeke.

He spoke five days after Donald Trump was inaugurated as president of the United States, the world's second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China. The EU as a bloc is the third largest.

In less than a week, Trump signed orders that will have a negative impact on US greenhouse gas reduction.

On Tuesday, he lifted an order by his predecessor Barack Obama to put the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline on hold. He also promised to revive the coal sector.

Coal, and then oil, are the fossil fuels that emit the most greenhouse gases, which cause the Earth's temperature to rise.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported that the Environmental Protection Agency in the US has been told to remove its webpages on climate change, something which at the moment of writing has not happened yet.

EU official Delbeke said that the US may achieve its climate goals agreed in Paris in 2015, despite Trump's “hesitation”, however.

“Needless to say we are not that enthusiastic about the decision about the XL pipeline,” said Delbeke.

“We may not be happy about many decisions that are being taken. But when I talk to experts from the United States, they say that it is not to be excluded that because of the business dynamics, that the pledge that the United States have given in Paris, may well be delivered," he said.

World leaders agreed in Paris that they would adopt policies that would keep global warming “well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels”.

“Climate warming is indeed happening,” said Hans Bruyninckx, executive director of the European Environment Agency.

He noted that in 2016, the average global temperature was between 1.1 °C and 1.3 °C higher than since before the industrial revolution.

Bruyninckx did not subscribe to the suggestion that with Trump climate inaction, other countries should pick up the slack.

“I think it's inconceivable that we would say: okay, the US is not cutting this or that, so let's do it in Europe. That's not how the system works,” he said.

However, last weekend's "change in the world order" does give the EU an opportunity to show leadership, said Werner Hoyer, the president of the European Investment Bank (EIB).

“2016 was again the hottest year on record, reminding us that climate change needs urgent action,” he said at an annual press conference about the EIB's results on Tuesday.

“With the change in the world order last weekend, we Europeans must lead the free world against the climate sceptics," he said.

The EIB chief also noted that Chinese president Xi Jinping earlier this month urged all countries to stick to the Paris climate agreement.

“It is heartwarming it is nowadays the Chinese who are reminding us of the importance of that goal. It took us quite some time to convince them,” said Hoyer.

However, his vice-president on climate action, Jonathan Taylor, said he would not “speculate” about the US.

“All I can do is talk for our own position. Climate continues to be a very significant priority,” he told EUobserver.

“We continue to expect that we will have a minimum amount of lending in climate action of 25 percent of our overall total. We are aiming to get that up to 35 percent by 2020 for countries outside of the European Union," he said.

Taylor did not directly see a role for the EIB to pick up the slack of what the US was not doing.

“I don't think we need to add to our particular targets, although of course our 25 percent target is a minimum, and indeed we've exceeded it in the last few years,” he noted.

The EIB funds projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, as well as those that prepare communities for climate change.

Indeed, Europe is already affected by climate change, according to a report by the European Environment Agency (EEA), published on Wednesday.

Climate change is expected to reduce crop yield for farmers in southern Europe, and increase the risk of forest fires, floods, and droughts.

Extreme weather situations will become more common, said EEA chief Bruyninckx.

“You have to prepare your cities for both flooding and shortages of water,” he said.

Eat less meat

But it is not only government action that is required.

Citizens will have to change their behaviour, said a Dutch institute in a new report.

The Netherlands will only be able to achieve its climate goals promised in Paris, if its citizens change their eating pattern, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment said in a report on Tuesday (24 January).

That means “eating less meat, and choosing fruit and vegetables that are in season, and reducing waste”.

EU rushing to ratify climate agreement

Environment ministers will try to agree this week to speed up the process to sign up to the Paris agreement. Otherwise it would not be present at the table of the signatories at a conference in November.

Trump pledges US-first foreign policy

Economic protectionism and war on Islamist terrorism will form the heart of US foreign policy, Trump has said. He did not rubbish Nato, but indicated interest in a new Russia alliance.

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