Global climate action has momentum – even if the US withdraws from the Paris Agreement

The shock election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency has raised concerns for global progress on climate action, as the leader of the world’s largest economy is an avowed climate sceptic.  However, there are many factors that need to be assessed in the days and weeks to come in order to understand his impact on global climate action.

For all his lampooning of climate change and the Paris Climate Agreement, we are yet to see how that campaign rhetoric will play out in government.  While few would be optimistic of a softening in his attitude, Energetics, amongst many commentators, contends that meaningful climate action will continue, because the drivers of climate action are both broad and well established. 

Some points to consider:

Gas and renewable technologies are cost effective

- Utility-scale renewable energy is increasingly cost effective with wind and solar generation cheaper to construct than a new coal fired power station .
- Changes from coal to less emissions intensive gas energy generation in the US are largely driven by economics.  Gas reserves are such that we can expect gas fired power to dominate there for many years.

The need to address pollution in China and India

- China is committed to renewable energy, emissions reductions and the goals of the Paris Agreement.  Part of its Government’s motivation for action came as citizens objected to pollution created by coal fired power stations. 
- Like China, India is suffering extreme levels of air pollution in major urban centres and has already implemented an odd and even day for vehicular access in some cities as well as taking the step of turning off a coal fired generator. Further, the application of microgrids powered by renewable sources is seen as a viable path to supplying electricity in rural areas. 

Australia has ratified the Paris Agreement and decarbonisation of our energy mix is underway

- Our state governments are unlikely to withdraw their respective carbon neutrality and renewable energy targets.
- The most inefficient power station in the developed world, Hazelwood, will shut down.
 

103 parties to the Paris Agreement have ratified, accounting for 73.4% of global emissions

- Adding Australia’s 1.46% gives a total of 104 countries covering 74.5% of global emissions.  Even if the US withdraws from the Agreement, and we deduct their 17.8% of global emissions, a total of 57% of global emissions are covered by the Agreement, which is higher than the 55% threshold required for the Agreement to take effect.
- China is unlikely to shift from their NDC commitment of peaking CO2 emissions between 2025 and 2030. They're already on track to achieve this, and with the health of their cities a major concern, they're likely to continue their substantial investment in renewable energy which was $102 billion in 2015.
- The EU is unlikely to shy away from their 40% GHG emissions reduction target by 2030. Germany will not stop generating 30% of their energy from renewable energy sources, Denmark will not stop generating more than 50% of their energy from renewable energy sources, Norway will not stop generating 98% of their energy from renewable energy sources and Iceland won’t stop using renewable energy for 100% of their energy needs. In short, a Trump presidency will not see a return to coal fired power generation in the developed world.
- Closer to home New Zealand will not stop generating over 70% of their energy from renewable energy sources. Pacific Island nations will not stop pressing for increased climate change action to mitigate the impacts on their homes.
 

Business action is well established

- As seen from the 2015 Paris COP21, business is leading the way and setting both strong emissions reduction goals and renewable energy targets. 
- The investment community has sent clear signals that climate change is a risk that requires active management and disclosure.


Physical impacts of climate change are growing

- The impacts are deepening.  Temperature records continue to be broken and extreme weather events are increasing.  The broad population is aware, some are directly impacted and the costs to society are well publicised. 

However, one of the clear messages from the election of Donald Trump is that large swathes of the community are feeling disconnected and disenfranchised.  There is a task for governments and others driving climate change action to prioritise community engagement and support – especially drawing the connection between the climate impacts they are experiencing and the need to address the problem through significant changes across the economy.  Climate action will struggle for support wherever it’s perceived as the realm of ‘elites’. 
 

So what happens next?

Whatever happens during the Trump Presidency in respect of domestic climate change action, and whatever ramifications this has on an international stage, it is important for businesses, politicians and individuals to remember the many co-benefits associated with climate change mitigation, and not lose sight of what we’re trying to achieve.  The goal is to limit warming to less than 2oC above pre-industrial levels. Any action taken otherwise will place us on the wrong side of history.

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