PRESIDENT Trump has pledged that the US will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, raising fears that the move will do more harm than good to the country’s industries.
The decision to leave the climate accord has received widespread condemnation from scientific groups and enterprises, who are concerned that there may be a negative impact upon jobs, innovation and businesses. In addition, China and the EU have reaffirmed their own commitment to the agreement.
Originally negotiated and subsequently signed by 195 countries, the Paris Accord sought to hold the increase in global average temperature below a rise of 2°C from preindustrial levels by 2100. Trump’s decision to leave the climate deal was based on his belief that it “disadvantages the United States, to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories and vastly diminished economic production.”
However, this view has been challenged by many in the chemical industries, both in the US and abroad.
Prior to Thursday’s announcement, an open letter to the president signed by 30 US corporate leaders including from 3M, DuPont and Procter & Gamble raised concerns that leaving the agreement will hit jobs and economic growth.
The letter said: “We believe that American companies – and our suppliers, customers, and communities – will benefit from U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement in several ways.” It detailed that benefits would include global competitiveness, strengthened American manufacturing for new technologies, the encouragement of investment supported by long-term planning, the expansion of global and domestic markets that create jobs and growth, and market-based solutions and innovations.
US-based Dow Chemical told the president over social media: “You won the election with a manufacturing jobs agenda. If you want to create jobs in this sector, support the Paris Agreement.”
In a slew of statements following the decision, American scientific and industry groups have reacted with a mixture of condemnation and pledges to maintain efforts to combat climate change.
Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists called Trump’s move “reprehensible” and “irresponsible”, before adding “Fortunately, the clean energy revolution is well underway and can’t be halted by President Trump’s ill-informed choice.”
Similarly, the American Chemistry Council said: “Chemical manufacturers will continue to meet global demand for materials and technologies that improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions.”
The EU Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) has also voiced its opposition with a statement on behalf of 29,000 large, medium and small chemical companies in Europe. It said: “The Paris agreement gives us the flexible framework to manage climate change while providing a smooth transition for business. Global competitiveness can best be achieved with the US remaining in the Paris agreement.”
Creating Jobs in the Coal Industry?
One industry that Trump hopes will benefit from leaving the Paris Agreement is the US coal industry. However, some analysts have reported that there will be no strong rebound in coal output or employment, due to abundant reserves of low-cost gas released by the country’s shale boom and a strong renewable sector already being present.
Currently, a number of ageing American coal plants are being closed, while economic development agencies have already invested in technology and progressive alternatives. For example, late in March a spokesman for the Tennessee Valley Authority commented that the rolling back of Obama-era environmental policies such as the Clean Power Plan (CPP) would not significantly affect them. He said: “TVA was investing in a low carbon future before the CPP was created by closing ageing coal plants, investing in technology, more renewables, natural gas and nuclear energy.”
In fact, leaving the Paris accord could cost more jobs than it creates, and damage investment in the US’ renewables sector.
Almost three times as many people are employed in the US renewable industry as in coal mining. According to the US Department of Energy’s 2017 Energy and Employment Report, 373,807 Americans spend some time working in the solar power industry, with 260,077 of those working there more than half the time.
When added to the 101,738 Americans who work in wind power, this eclipses the 160,119 in the coal industry. In addition, the number employed in coal mining specifically has fallen from around 89,000 in 2012 to about 50,500 in April this year.
According to the Financial Times, future employment prospects in the coal industry look slim as the US is currently undergoing a shift in production. Low-cost surface mines of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana are being preferred to the high-cost, less productive mines in Appalachia. Per employee, the average surface mine in Wyoming can produce more than eight times the coal of the average mine in Pennsylvania, meaning that it may be difficult to create more jobs.
While Trump’s announcement has gained a lot of reaction, it is likely to be four years before the US can actually leave the accord. The Paris Agreement itself states that no country can withdraw within three years of it coming into force, and the process of withdrawal takes a further year to complete. If this is the case, then the US cannot completely withdrawal before 5 November 2020, which is the day after the next Presidential election.
And while Trump stated his intention to leave the Paris Agreement, he also announced that he will begin negotiations to re-enter the accord. He said: “So we're getting out, but we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that's fair. And if we can, that's great. And if we can't, that's fine.”
Many have noted that this means that this could result in the US never effectively leaving the accord.
Myles Allen, professor of geosystem science at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, said: “Withdrawing and then re-entering the Paris Agreement under different terms would, in effect, be identical to revising the US ‘nationally determined contribution’ — something the agreement specifically allows.
“Once the theatrics are over, much will depend now on how the rest of the world responds to this proposal to ‘renegotiate’ the terms of US participation. If we really want to put the future of the planet first, we need to be thinking hard about how to make the agreement both more effective and more acceptable to nations with substantial fossil reserves — or the US won’t be the last one to be taking this step.”
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