Wednesday, 9 November 2016

From despair to determination - Trump will be president of the USA, not the world.

My first reaction to Trump becoming president of the USA was utter despair. But then I remembered - the USA is only accountable for 15% of global climate emissions. So even though they will doubtless wobble for a few years that need not be the end of the world, provided the rest of us act responsibly.

Emissions by country 1959 to 2014 according to the UNFCCC. Data from
UNFCCC (May 2015) and Boden, TA, Marland, G and Andres, RJ 2015. Global, Regional, and National Fossil-Fuel CO2 Emissions, Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge, Tenn., USA doi 10.3334/CDIAC/00001_V2015, via

The chart above shows emissions by country for most of the biggest emitters. The 'rest of the world' is responsible for 39% and these are spread over many small but growing economies. Of those not shown on the chart Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Mexico, Iran and Saudi Arabia account for between 1% and 2% each and the rest are smaller still.

Trump believes that climate change is bullshit and has pledged to cut all federal spending on the issue [1]. His energy adviser Rep. Kevin Cramer thinks that climate change is 'grossly exaggerated' and the Paris climate change accord is 'one more bad trade deal'. He expects Trump to submit this to the Senate for ratification where it will fail to get a 2/3 majority and use that as an excuse not to comply [2].

My big fear is that the UK government, which has until recently been reasonably good about reducing carbon emissions, will follow the US lead. Pulling out of the EU will make it easier for the UK to back out of its current commitments. The government accepted the 5th carbon budget - 57% reduction by 2030 [3] but this was done in the days immediately following Brexit and I suspect it went through on the nod because of other distractions. In any case we are not on track to meet it. 'Emissions reduction in the power sector alone, or any single sector, will not be enough to meet the fourth, or recommended fifth, carbon budgets or the 2050 target. Furthermore, current policies are not sufficient to continue the good progress to date or broaden it to other sectors... The Government has recognised that current policies are not sufficient and has committed to publish its plans to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets by the end of this year.' [4]

There is no shortage of evidence as to the urgency of climate change and this increases by the day. Nicholas Stern's 2006 report told us 'the cost of inaction would be far greater for future generations than the costs of actions taken today.' but now he says that was an understatement. 'With hindsight, I now realise that I underestimated the risks. I should have been much stronger in what I said in the report about the costs of inaction. I underplayed the dangers.' [5]

However there are also good grounds for optimism. Since 2006, China has been the world's biggest emitter (27% of gobal emissions in 2014) and it has cautiously promised that its carbon emissions will peak no later than 2030 - but there are suggestions it will happen much sooner, and might even have already happened [6]. There is massive investment in renewable energy: $286 billion globally last year and in at least some of the right places: China came top, commiting $103 billion; USA and Japan were second and third but a long way behind [7].

Even the oil companies have begun to recognise the necessity to clean up their industry. They recently pledged investment of $1 billion to reduce gas leakage [8]. Also Saudi Aramco and Shell have banded together to create an investment fund for renewables and carbon capture and storage [9].

The UK fell this year to number 14 in the Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index [10]. If we don't buck up we will lose out.

[1] (Donald Trump finally said something concrete about climate policy (Huffington Post) Nov. 6th
[2] The Trump and Clinton campaigns finally had a substantive climate debate (Vox) Oct. 26th
[3] CCC welcomes Government backing for fifth carbon budget and continued ambition to meet 2050 target (CCC) June 2016
[4] Meeting Carbon Budgets - 2016 Progress Report to Parliament (CCC) June 2016
[5] Nicholas Stern: cost of global warming ‘is worse than I feared’ (Guardian) Nov 6th
[6] Will China beat its 2030 deadline to stop carbon emissions growth? Mainland researchers think so (South China Morning Post) Nov. 8th
[7] Global renewable investment rises to $285.9 billion (Guardian) 19th Oct.
[8] Oil firms announce $1bn climate fund to clean up gas (Guardian) 4th Nov.
[9] Exclusive: Oil majors join forces in climate push with renewable energy fund (Reuters) Nov. 2nd
[10] Brexit sees UK drop to new low in global renewable energy league table (Independent) 27th October

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