A recently leaked draft of a federal climate change report finds that the United States is already experiencing the effects of climate change, and human activities, specifically greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for the greatest impacts to our climate.
The findings are not new but the report, signed off by the National Academy of Sciences, should be a wakeup call for an administration intent on stripping away federal progress and policies related to mitigating climate change.Even before the official release of the report scheduled for August 18, the Trump administration had unfortunately already turned its back on the scientific community, government agencies and even the highest echelons of military leadership in denying the real dangers associated with climate change. Will the report make a difference? Probably not, at least not to this administration and their damaging positions and policies on clean energy and climate.
Trump’s energy and environmental policies show a president living in a time warp where present day realities are ignored — but at what cost for the country and our future?
Trump is bold on coal and cold on renewables and obstinate in refusing to acknowledge the real national security challenges associated with global climate change. His rhetoric and resulting actions are wholly out of step with the rest of the developed world where the realities of climate change are driving energy and environmental policies that emphasize more natural gas, renewables and participation in a more active global climate architecture.
In March, Trump issued an executive order promising a resurgence for U.S. hydrocarbons, more coal jobs and the construction of more coal-fired power plants on federal lands, in other words, a revival of 1950s era policy prescriptions. And in June, he pulled the U.S. out of the Paris agreement and issued a message of U.S. energy dominance that failed to mention renewables or climate change.
The United States is quickly falling out of step with the rest of the world when it comes to coal and governmental support for renewables. In April, Britain proudly touted its first coal-free day in over 200 years and plans to be coal free by 2025. Scotland shut down its last coal-fired generating plant last year, and more than a quarter of European countries have decided to join the coal-free movement. China the largest consumer of coal in the world is even making cuts to coal with targets to reduce from the current 64 percent of power generation coming from coal to under 60 percent by 2020. China today is the largest producer of renewables and its 13th Five Year plan illustrates a country moving towards cleaner energy and recognition of its own climate security challenges.
Trump’s coal promises have a capital problem, and the likes of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan are only two of many banks which have already pledged no financing for new coal. The big banks such as Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America have all pledged to stop or scale back financial support for new green coal projects in the United States.
Each of these banks clearly states in their standards for investment decisions that high carbon emitting energies, specifically coal, will not make the cut for their portfolios. The banks can't bring coal back without backtracking on their own environmental finance initiatives. These banks understand the carbon dangers associated with increased coal production and they know their climate investment footprint matters. They don’t want to be caught holding new coal assets when all signs show a global retreat away from coal in advanced economies. It’s bad for business.
If it’s true that the trend is your friend, then it’s time to embrace the tailwinds that are pushing the U.S. energy transition forward. Natural gas and renewables are market takers and both provide lower carbon energy supply. Natural gas accounted for 34 percent of US power generation in 2016 and coal a diminished 30 percent. A decade ago coal was supplying 50 percent of our power generation needs. Renewables are up from 8 percent in 2007 to 16 percent today.
When it comes to natural gas and coal going head to head in the competition for power sector dominance there is no contest; natural gas comes out ahead on all fronts. It's cheaper, cleaner and like coal, domestically produced. American ingenuity and innovation made natural gas the energy it is today — and promoting it over coal is not unpatriotic, it’s smart. It's both a medium and long-term trend to add low emission carbon capacity to the power sector. Head of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol highlighted, “The environmental advantages of natural gas, particularly when replacing coal, also deserve more attention from policy makers.”
Trump may choose to stay at the back of the pack among global leaders but our governors, mayors, corporations and universities won’t be held back by a president who can’t see the writing on the wall: coal is out, gas is in, and renewables are here to stay.
Action on climate change can’t wait. Trump can either get on board or get out the way.
Carolyn Kissane serves as the academic director of the graduate program in Global Affairs at the Center for Global Affairs and is a clinical associate professor where she teaches graduate level courses examining the geopolitics of energy, comparative energy politics, energy, environment and resource security, a regional course focusing on Central Asia.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.