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19th Jul 2019

Trump causes 'anxiety' about Paris climate deal

  • Sefcovic (centre) looking at a world map in San Francisco. The EU's partners expressed 'anxiety' over Trump's election, he said (Photo: European Commission)

Maros Sefcovic, the EU's top energy official, has said US president Donald Trump has caused “anxiety” about the future of the Paris climate agreement, but that it was too soon to despair.

“I wouldn't hide that in discussions with our partners, there is a lot of anxiety what would be the future of US policies, how this would affect the implementation of the Paris agreement,” Sefcovic, a vice-president of the European Commission responsible for its “energy union” policy, told journalists in Brussels on Monday (30 January).

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  • More predictable times. Sefcovic (l) shaking hands with former US secretary of state John Kerry, a solid proponent of climate change action (Photo: European Commission)

He noted that the Paris deal on slowing global warming, agreed in December 2015, has been signed and ratified by the United States and said that Trump’s policy on climate was not yet clear.

“We still have to wait for the concretisation of what was said in the election campaign. We have seen that the position was already several times modified,” said Sefcovic.

There is a scientific consensus that climate change is caused by human activity.

Trump, in his election campaign, said that that was a “hoax”, but he also said he would keep an “open mind” on the issue.

His communications policy since entering the White House indicates that he could backtrack from US commitments on emissions reductions.

The official White House website has published a new page saying that Trump was “committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan”.

It said the US should “embrace” fossil fuels “by reviving America’s coal industry”.

It also said there was an “estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves” up for grabs on US territory.

Liquefied natural gas

Climate change concerns aside, the EU is interested in US gas exports in order to reduce dependence on Russia.

Sefcovic said on Monday that the United States could become the world's largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

The EU has embraced LNG as an alternative to gas in pipelines, and the energy union project, which Sefovic leads, began as a strategy to reduce dependence on Russian supplies.

“Every analyst I talk to, [says] they expect that US would become, or has a very strong chance to become, the number one LNG exporter as of 2020,” said Sefcovic.

“If there is one issue where nobody has a doubt if it comes to the new American administration: they are very pro-business.

“I cannot imagine they would create any problems for those companies which want to export LNG," he said.

Energy politics

He did not foresee any risk that Trump would use energy policy to play politics or discriminate against European companies.

The commissioner said that Europe was a “good customer” and that energy suppliers were “fighting for market share in Europe”.

“We are big, we import a lot, we pay on time, we are predictable,” he said.

LNG can be more easily stored and transported around the world than gaseous gas. Natural gas is a fossil fuel that contributes to global warming, but is less harmful than coal and oil.

Sefcovic said he expected LNG to become a global commodity “like oil”, possibly with daily fluctuating prices.

That would represent a move away from the long-term contracts and Russian dependency associated with pipeline gas.

“We are open for business, but guys, we expect good price, good services, no strings attached,” Sefcovic said, addressing energy companies.

Business case

He repeated what the EU's top civil servant on climate action said last week - that there was a “strong business case” to support clean energy.

“The power of argument, the power of leading examples, showing that it works and that it creates a good business opportunity and new jobs; that would be our strongest tools which we would want to use in Europe to convince the new American administration to also be in the leading coalition in terms of fighting climate change,” Sefcovic said.

Trump's man in Brussels

More details about the United States' energy and climate policy should become available later this week.

On Wednesday (1 February), Myron Ebell will speak at an event in Brussels, organised by the mildly eurosceptic European-level political party, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe.

Ebell was Trump's pick to lead the transition team for the United States Environmental Protection Agency and a known denier of climate change science.

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