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Is The Paris Agreement A Toothless Tiger?

05/01/2017 12:03 EDT | Updated 05/01/2017 12:14 EDT
Bill Clark via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - APRIL 22: A flag hangs over an entrance to the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington on April 22, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

With the swearing in of Donald Trump as president of the United States last January, political analysts foresaw a marked regression in American environmental policies. The nomination of climate change deniers like Scott Pruitt to the helm of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) seemed to sound the death knell for international commitments of the world's most powerful economy regarding the reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG). Besides, the hawks surrounding Mr Trump are urging him to reject the Paris Agreement (COP21) as he promised during the electoral campaign.

Surprise! The coal producers are doing an about-face and are asking Mr Trump to not repudiate the Paris Agreement. They are not doing this because they are convinced by the science from the International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC). Rather, it is a Machiavellian plot to promote "clean coal," that is, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS); the coal is burned while trying to "wash" the noxious fumes that escape from the chimney. We have seen the Kemper County project in Mississippi, a $5 billion project, awash in a sea of insurmountable technical problems. I believe in "clean coal" with as much certainty as I believe that Santa Claus can come down 250 million chimneys without a trace of black soot on his fine red costume.

But there is a more diabolic reason to "save" the Paris Conference from the claws of Steve Bannon and Scott Pruitt. Certain coal producers, such as Peabody Energy, are proposing the following strategy to Mr Trump: "The future is in foreign markets. So the last thing you want, if you are a coal company, is to have to leave the negotiating table because of the American position, thus allowing the Europeans to control the agenda."(our translation) In other words, stay in the conference to gut it from the inside, thereby transforming it into a toothless tiger !

Coal, the oldest and dirtiest of fossil energies, is trying to regain its former importance, even if it means driving the final nail in the coffin of climate change. On the other side of the planet, the prime minister of Australia, Mr Malcolm Turnball, is preparing to give the green light to the gigantic Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee basin; in order to kickstart this project, he is ready to hand over one billion Australian dollars in subsidies. This fuel is destined for India; Australian coal or solar energy are the choices of this emerging economy which wants to bring the benefits of electricity to its billion citizens. Not only would this coal produce an estimated 7.7 billions tonnes of GHG during its expected 60 years of operation, it would multiply the risks to the Great Barrier Reef, already threatened by severe episodes of coral bleaching. Clearly, the dinosaur is refusing to die!

The scope of the fight against pollution is planetary; the new technologies are accelerating the inexorable demise of fossil fuels. Here too, there are great contradictions! China, the world's second largest economy, but the greatest emitter of GHG, is faced with an apocalyptic level of pollution. Each day, 4400 Chinese die from the emissions coming, in large part, from coal fired power stations. This country experiences great problems of productivity due to the degraded pulmonary health of its population; this severely puts at risk China's ambition to again become the "Middle Kingdom" at the center of the world.

It is in this context that the Chinese government has adopted its latest five year plan, about which one may read the following commentaries from expert: "The 13th plan is particularly symptomatic of the willingness of the Chinese to take the world leadership on environmental questions. In effect, the authorities are aware of the risks of destabilization and political challenges by Chinese citizens with their associated economic and financial issues"(our translation) At Davos, several articles report the willingness of China to become the leader in green energies.

In the United States, the rear-guard battle by the dinosaurs in the White House may attempt to stem the waves of creativity coming from Silicon Valley headed by people such as Elon Musk. It is, merely, the death throes of a Tyrannosaurus Rex! The 11 of March, hardly two months after Trump's swearing in, California succeeded in producing 50 per cent of its electricity from renewables, the majority of which (40 per cent) came from solar panels. Even the conservative state of Texas, that great oil producer, has become the state which produces the most electricity from wind with a capacity of 20,321 megawatts according to Wikipedia.

During the week following Earth Day, it is clear that the efforts to transform the Paris Conference (COP 21) into a harmless, toothless tiger will accentuate the damage caused by climate change. This will put in peril the poorer and more vulnerable nations. This Autumn, COP 23, which will be presided over by the prime minister of Fiji, Mr Bainimarama, will symbolically illustrate the narrow-minded egoism of the Trump regime.

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