Economics

Which country leads the world in climate change?

The influence of the US in the fight against climate change may be fading, but China and Europe remain committed to carbon reduction targets.

10 February 2017

Sustainable Investment Team

Uncertainty gives way to reality for US climate policy

President Trump has wasted no time in making his mark on numerous policy areas, including climate change. So far, we have seen moratoriums on federal agencies’ releases of climate related statements, executive orders to expedite construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota pipelines, and plans to downsize the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through asset freezes and job cuts.

The new White House energy policy website, “An America First Energy Plan”, echoes the sentiment expressed by President Trump during the election campaign; emphasising the need to eliminate “harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan”1.

Rex Tillerson was confirmed as Secretary of State on 1 February. During his questioning by the Senate, he acknowledged global warming and climate change as a material risk for the US, and saw carbon tax as one mechanism of mitigation2. His recognition of human drivers of climate change contrasts with the views of Myron Ebell, chosen to oversee the EPA transition, and Scott Pruitt, the new director of the EPA. Myron Ebell is currently director of the Centre for Energy and Environment, a libertarian think-tank that aims to counter what it views as the alarmist message surrounding climate change3. Scott Pruitt has participated in a number of legal cases seeking to limit the EPA’s actions to curb greenhouse gas emissions4.

International climate commitment stays strong 

Headlines from the US have intensified uncertainty surrounding, and raised fresh doubts on, the probability and timing of a transition to a low-carbon global economy. However, global commitments appear to have grown enough to underpin continued progress, whatever the US’ direction.

The European Commission’s Energy Chief, Maros Sefcovic, reiterated the EU’s commitments, with or without US participation in the Paris Agreement. The Financial Times records Mr Sefcovic, as stating “without the United States, [the Paris Accord] might be more difficult. But nevertheless, it will not deter us from our path, from our goal, and I believe that history will vindicate our choice.”5

A similar message has been heard from China this month, with President Xi Jinping defending China’s commitments to the Paris climate agreement at Davos. China updated its commitment to spend at least $360 billion on renewables, and have five million electric or fuel cell vehicles on the road by 2020. China already dominates spending on renewables.

The country spent $27 billion in the last quarter of 2016, compared to $13 billion by the US. The most recent five-year plan’s emphasis on limiting climate change and pollution suggests this will only increase. Already, five out of the six biggest solar panel manufacturers, and five of the ten biggest wind turbine makers are based in China6. As the chart below attests, China is also the largest emitter of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use, and therefore has the potential for the greatest carbon reduction from climate policy.

China leads investment in renewables

investment _in_renewables

1. https://www.whitehouse.gov/america-first-energy

2. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/11/us/rex-tillerson-confirmation-hearings.html

3. https://cei.org/expert/myron-ebell; https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/11/11/meet-the-man-trump-is-relying-on-to-unravel-obamas-environmental-legacy/?utm_term=.9e19e6ab7713 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/trump-picks-top-climate-skeptic-to-lead-epa-transition/

4. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/07/trump-scott-pruitt-environmental-protection-agency https://www.ft.com/content/1a0cf6c4-bcc4-11e6-8b45-b8b81dd5d080 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/17/science/readers-questions-scott-pruitt-trump-epa.html

5. https://www.ft.com/content/64e5388a-e70f-11e6-967b-c88452263daf

6. https://www.ft.com/content/3f1ba5ba-ddac-11e6-86ac-f253db7791c6

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