Eyes on China After U.S. Climate Decision

President Trump’s Thursday announcement that he will pull out of the Paris Agreement on has been met with sharp criticism from U.S. allies, businesses, and high-profile environmentalists. The decision, as many have noted, may create an opening for Beijing to take the lead on global climate action, and also to expand its dominance in the renewable energy industry.

In his announcement Trump made the case that the agreement was both unfairly detrimental to the U.S. economy and untrue to American environmental ideals, and claimed that the U.S. would begin negotiating a new deal. As an example, Trump pointed to China, claiming:

For example, under the agreement, China will be able to increase these emissions by a staggering number of years — 13. They can do whatever they want for 13 years. Not us. India makes its participation contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developed countries. There are many other examples. But the bottom line is that the Paris Accord is very unfair, at the highest level, to the United States.

Further, while the current agreement effectively blocks the development of clean coal in America — which it does, and the mines are starting to open up. We’re having a big opening in two weeks. Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, so many places. A big opening of a brand-new mine. It’s unheard of. For many, many years, that hasn’t happened. They asked me if I’d go. I’m going to try.

China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So we can’t build the plants, but they can, according to this agreement. India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020. Think of it: India can double their coal production. We’re supposed to get rid of ours. Even Europe is allowed to continue construction of coal plants.

[…] Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree — think of that; this much — Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100. Tiny, tiny amount. In fact, 14 days of carbon emissions from China alone would wipe out the gains from America — and this is an incredible statistic — would totally wipe out the gains from America’s expected reductions in the year 2030, after we have had to spend billions and billions of dollars, lost jobs, closed factories, and suffered much higher energy costs for our businesses and for our homes. [Source]

China notably ratified the 2015 agreement after groundwork for the landmark emissions reduction plan was set through deals with Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama. In Paris last year, Beijing set a date for peak emissions (2030) for the first time—a softening of its long running stance that developing countries should have the liberty to catch-up with developed nations. At Mother Jones, James West corrects Trump’s statements regarding China, highlighting Beijing’s commitment and progress already made:

China is far surpassing the US on investment to create clean energy jobs. In February, China announced that it would spent $361 billion over the next couple of years to create 13 million green jobs, according to the country’s National Energy Administration.

China is winning on clean energy technology. In 2016, a Chinese firm topped a global ranking for wind energy production for the first time, beating America’s General Electric. China leads the world in solar energy production—and has done so for some time. (Go inside one of the world’s biggest solar manufacturing plants with me, here.)

This year China is slated to launch the world’s biggest national carbon trading marketstitching together seven pilot carbon trading markets which have been up and running since 2013.

China overtook the US as the world’s biggest market for electric vehicles in 2015—and has a big plans for expansion. “We are convinced China will become the leading market for electro-mobility,” said Volkswagen brand chief Herbert Diess at a recent Shanghai car show.  [Source]

At Politifact, Jon Greenberg further fact-checks Trump’s speech, noting China’s steps to taper coal power reliance:

Trump: “China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So, we can’t build the plants, but they can, according to this agreement.”

Under the Paris agreement, each country publicly declares how much it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and what it will do to get there. So in that sense, the agreement doesn’t allow or disallow specific actions, like building plants.

Regardless, China has actually taken steps to stop building coal plants. In January, China stopped construction of 103 new coal-fired plants. The move sidelined scores of projects where work had already begun and put 120 gigawatts of capacity on hold.

Between the effects of an economic slowdown and an effort to move toward less-polluting sources, China has cut its use of coal three years in a row.

The key benchmark under the Paris agreement is the overall reduction in emissions. Climate Action Tracker, a project of three research groups, reported in May that “China’s carbon dioxide emissions appear to have peaked more than a decade ahead of its Paris Agreement commitment.”

[…] Still, the Action Tracker assessment comes with a warning. […] [Source]

Ahead of Trump’s Rose Garden speech, China and the EU agreed to affirm their commitment to the Paris accord, and were expected to sign a joint statement Friday in Brussels solidifying their leading roles in addressing climate change. However, according to more recent reports the final statement wasn’t signed due to a trade dispute, but the two sides did informally commit to further climate cooperation and expressed joint confidence that Trump’s withdrawal is “a big mistake.” The BBC’s Matt McGrath Thursday reported on the still unsigned draft and recent cooperation between Brussels and Beijing that led to it:

A draft of the document, seen by the BBC, stresses the “highest political commitment” to implement the deal.

[…] For more than a year, Chinese and EU officials have been working behind the scenes to agree a joint statement on climate change and clean energy.

The document highlights the dangers posed by rising temperatures, “as a national security issue and multiplying factor of social and political fragility,” while pointing out that the transition to clean energy creates jobs and economic growth.

“The EU and China consider the Paris agreement as an historic achievement further accelerating the irreversible global low greenhouse gas emission and climate resilient development,” the draft document says.

“The Paris Agreement is proof that with shared political will and mutual trust, multilateralism can succeed in building fair and effective solutions to the most critical global problems of our time. The EU and China underline their highest political commitment to the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement in all its aspects.” […] [Source]

The BBC reports on Chinese online discussion around the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris accord. While a segment of Chinese web users have expressed reverence for Trump, much online commentary on his decision describes it as a bad move for the U.S. and a win for China:

User “atspetro” said Trump had become “like a clown… with no credibility.”

Another [Weibo] user, “Maizhen Keji”, calls Trump “short-sighted” and “selfish” and says that public opinion towards his withdrawal from the agreement can be summed up with a Chinese proverb: “shuineng zaizhou”: “not only can water float a boat, it can also sink it.”

In other words, people (the water) can raise a politician (the boat) to power, but they can also destroy a leader’s reputation.

[…] User “atspetro” said Trump had become “like a clown… with no credibility.”

Another user, “Maizhen Keji”, calls Trump “short-sighted” and “selfish” and says that public opinion towards his withdrawal from the agreement can be summed up with a Chinese proverb: “shuineng zaizhou”: “not only can water float a boat, it can also sink it.”

In other words, people (the water) can raise a politician (the boat) to power, but they can also destroy a leader’s reputation. [Source]

Meanwhile, California Governor Jerry Brown—who has long been vocal in his criticism of Trump’s agenda, especially on climatereleased a statement castigating the decision:

has absolutely chosen the wrong course. He’s wrong on the facts. America’s economy is boosted by following the Paris Agreement. He’s wrong on the science. Totally wrong. California will resist this misguided and insane course of action. Trump is AWOL but California is on the field, ready for battle. [Source]

At Newsweek, Alexander Nazaryan reports that Jerry Brown in now en route to China:

Now, Brown is on his way to China to discuss the future of the Paris agreement. With that trip, Brown will effectively be playing the role of emissary for Americans—private citizens, corporations and some members of Trump’s own Cabinet, most notably his daughter Ivanka—who are opposed to the president’s environmental policies, including an unlikely return to a coal-based economy and a broader retreat from the global stage.

“I’m on the side of the angels,” Brown told Politico. “I’m going to do everything I can, and people are going to join with me.” Brown will, according to the website, spend the week “participating in a global climate summit and meeting with high-level Chinese officials, possibly including President Xi Jinping.”

The governor will bring with him the clout of the nation’s most populous and economically successful state, one that boasts the sixth largest economy in the world. More intangibly, he has on his side the idea of California as a fundamentally sunny land, always looking to the future with optimism and a can-do spirit. […] [Source]

More from Bloomberg‘s John Lippert and Ryan Beene:

California Governor Jerry Brown departs Friday for China, where he’ll urge the world’s most populous country and largest car market to take environmental cues from Sacramento, not the U.S. capital. Brown — an anti-smog crusader since a previous term as governor starting in 1975 — is now 79 with less than two years left to serve. His gambit in China could create an environmental legacy beyond what he could hope to accomplish in California itself.

[…] In China, Brown will spread the gospel of California’s auto policies, including a state rule requiring an increase in annual sales of zero-emission vehicles powered by batteries or hydrogen. The Chinese government is weighing a similar requirement for automakers competing in the world’s largest vehicle market. […] [Source]