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President Donald Trump’s Climate Policies Can Shift US Jobs to China, say Experts

Experts suggest that Trump's Climate policies will shift US jobs to China

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Donald Trump at Press Conference- Image Courtesy- Wikimedia

Environmentalists are reeling when they envisage what impact on climate change President-elect Donald Trump might have.

“A gut punch to the planet” is how environmental group Friends of the Earth described his upset victory.

But despite candidate Trump’s promises to reopen coal mines, pull out of the Paris climate treaty and roll back environmental regulations, there’s only so much the president-elect can do once he begins governing next year.

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Energy markets are shifting away from fossil fuels, according to economists, and the market for renewable energy is growing steadily. So, ironically, for all of Trump’s vows to create new American jobs, if he keeps his promises on environmental issues, he could wind up shipping even more U.S. jobs to China.

Managing the unavoidable

“The election of Donald Trump could be devastating to our climate and our future,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. Trump is the only world leader “to reject the scientific consensus that climate change is real and mankind is the cause,” he added.

Earth’s average temperature has already risen about 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times. Global warming of 2 degrees Celsius is the point at which at which humankind can “avoid the unmanageable and manage the unavoidable” impacts of climate change, says University of California-Berkeley public policy professor Dan Kammen.

At the current rate of warming, temperatures will hit the 2-degrees-warmer benchmark before 2050.

At a time when aggressive emissions cuts are needed, Trump’s proposals point in the opposite direction.

FILE - Machines dig for brown coal in front of a smoking power plant near the city of Grevenbroich in Germany.
Machines dig for brown coal in front of a smoking power plant near the city of Grevenbroich in Germany. VOA

FILE – Machines dig for brown coal in front of a smoking power plant near the city of Grevenbroich in Germany.

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Cheaper than gas?

In recent years, there has been “an alignment of the climate movement and the marketplace that is unprecedented,” Brune noted.

The United States has become the world’s largest producer of natural gas. As the price of natural gas has fallen, it has helped push coal out of the power generation market.

“Coal is not coming back,” Brune said.

That’s not just his opinion. The president of the largest electric utility in West Virginia, the nation’s number-two coal producer, agrees.

“You just can’t go with new coal [plants] at this point in time,” Appalachian Power President Charles Patton told the state’s Energy Summit last October, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “It is just not economically feasible to do so.”

But as far as natural gas prices have fallen, the costs of renewable energy have plummeted even further. Wind power is 60 percent cheaper than it was just seven years ago. Large-scale solar is 80 percent cheaper. In many cases, wind and solar power are now cheaper than natural gas.

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Last year, the United States added more power-generating capacity from wind than from any other source. Natural gas was second, followed by solar. The largest share of wind power came from Texas, where members of Congress are vocal opponents of climate-change legislation.

“Texas is a leader in renewable energy even though it hasn’t necessarily been a leader in supporting climate action … because it’s good for the economy,” said World Resources Institute President Andrew Steer.

Power companies around the world are responding to dropping prices for renewables. Dubai recently announced it is building a large-scale solar plant that will produce electricity for less than a new natural gas-fired plant would – in a country that produces natural gas, Kammen notes.

FILE - A photovoltaic solar park situated on the outskirts of the coastal town of Lamberts Bay, South Africa.
A photovoltaic solar park situated on the outskirts of the coastal town of Lamberts Bay, South Africa. VOA

FILE – A photovoltaic solar park situated on the outskirts of the coastal town of Lamberts Bay, South Africa.

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‘Complete folly’

The growth opportunities for American companies and American jobs are in renewables, Kammen says, and if Trump makes rebuilding the coal industry his top priority, that would “fly in the face of economic opportunity.”

“It would be complete folly to do anything but accelerate these plans” to expand the renewable energy industry, he adds.

Energy demand in the industrialized world is only expected to grow 18 percent by 2040, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. For the developing world, that figure is 71 percent.

These countries want renewables, Kammen says. And they want American-made renewables.

Kammen is a U.S. State Department science envoy for the Middle East and Africa. He says he has met with more than 20 national delegations at the latest round of climate talks in Morocco. “These are all countries that have clean-energy targets of 50 percent or more by 2030. And they all want to buy U.S.-made technology.”

“If these solar, wind and efficiency (products) are not available from the U.S., they will go elsewhere,” he adds.

Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean companies dominate the solar-panel industry. A Chinese company took over the top of the wind-turbine market last year, pushing out a U.S. company.

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No slackening

The next big opportunity is in energy storage, Kammen says. The U.S. government has made major investments in storage technology research.

“If we shut down our interest here,” he says, “we are going to choose to give those jobs to China.”

While Trump once said on Twitter that China invented the concept of global warming to undermine US manufacturing, “China is taking quite serious action on climate change right now,” says the World Resources Institute’s Andrew Steer. With pollution choking Chinese cities, Beijing “believes it is very much in its own interest to do so. We see no reason or evidence to expect any slackening of that,” even with Trump’s threats to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

Furthermore, he adds, “It’s certainly true that China would benefit competitively if the United States falls behind.” (VOA)

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Advance Of Summit, NATO Pacify Trump

NATO also plans to consider a Franco-German proposal

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Flags of NATO member countries
Flags of NATO member countries are seen at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. VOA

As Britain prepares for the NATO leaders’ meeting outside London December 3-4, the alliance said Thursday it had agreed to redistribute costs and cut the U.S. contribution to its central budget.

NATO’s central budget is relatively small at around $2.5 billion a year, mostly covering headquarters operations and staff, and different than its defense budget. U.S. President Donald Trump often complains of inequitable burden-sharing, with only nine of the 29 member countries meeting the 2%  of gross domestic product target for the alliance’s defense spending.

Regarding the central budget, “The U.S. will pay less, Germany will pay more, so now the U.S. and Germany will pay the same,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Paris Thursday.

The United States currently pays about 22% of NATO’s central budget. Beginning 2021, both U.S. and Germany will contribute about 16%.

NATO also plans to consider a Franco-German proposal to create a working group of “respected figures” to discuss reform in the alliance and address concerns about its future.

The announcement to reduce the American contribution is seen as a move to placate Trump, who has considered withdrawing from the alliance but has since taken credit for its promised reforms.

“In 2016, only four allies spent 2%  of GDP on defense,” a senior administration official told reporters Friday, adding that there are now nine countries, including the U.S.,  meeting the 2% target, with 18 expected to do so by 2024.

“This is tremendous progress, and I think it is due to the president’s diplomatic work,” he said.

 U.S. forces from Syria, a move Trump made without consulting NATO
A convoy of U.S. vehicle is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq. VOA

Internal strife

Leaders of the 29 member states will attempt a show of unity during the summit but the alliance is facing questioning about its relevance and unity, particularly after the October withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, a move Trump made without consulting NATO.

“It’s exactly in the wake of that decision that you had [French] President [Emmanuel] Macron say what he said about the alliance being ‘brain-dead’ and referencing the lack of American leadership in the sense of leading in a community and not just going out on your own,” said Gary Schmitt, a NATO analyst with the American Enterprise Institute.

U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Syria prompted Turkey to launch an offensive against Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria. The move spurred Macron to vent his frustration over what French diplomats say is NATO’s lack of coordination at a political level, and triggered fear among allies that the assault will undermine the battle against Islamic State militants.

Meanwhile, a simmering war between Russia and Ukraine has become the backdrop of Trump’s impeachment, with the American president allegedly having withheld hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate running against Trump. Kyiv needs the aid to counter Moscow’s aggression.

The two conflicts in Europe’s eastern and southern flank further complicate Washington’s already-strained relations with other NATO members. Meanwhile, despite American efforts to reassure European leaders of Washington’s continuing commitment, anxiety about U.S. neglect of NATO under Trump persists, said Hans Kundnani, Senior Research Fellow in the Europe Program at Chatham House.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, welcomes NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, left, welcomes NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine. VOA

Kundnani noted a series of American officials who have come to reassure Europeans not to take Trump’s tweets too seriously and focus on what is happening on the ground, particularly the military reinforcement of NATO’s eastern flank. Still, Kundnani said that in the last year Europeans have started to realize it’s “not really good enough” and they’re now facing the “reality of the of the crisis in NATO.”

“Some of them are hoping that Trump will be out of office in in a year’s time but the real fear is that Trump wins a second term,” said Kundnani, adding that some Europeans are hoping that “U.S. gradual withdrawal from Europe” might “snap back to the status quo ante if Trump is not re-elected.”

Diverging European responses

“The upcoming celebration of NATO’s 70th anniversary will be marked by important divisions within the alliance — not just across the Atlantic, but also within Europe,” said Karen Donfried, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

In Paris, the view is “strategic autonomy,” said Donfried, with many in France concluding that Washington’s security guarantee can no longer be relied on. Warsaw is promoting “strategic embrace”  developing close bilateral relationship with Trump to guarantee its own security, while Berlin is advocating “strategic patience.”

Germany in the middle is a little bit divided between the “Atlanticists” and the “post-Atlanticists,”   Kundani said, adding that “Europeans are very much arguing” about these approaches.

Donfried said that against this backdrop, NATO allies are approaching the London summit with a sense of foreboding, knowing that they carry the responsibility to articulate alliance’s common purpose and ongoing relevance.

“If they don’t, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will be raising a glass in Moscow to the fraught state of the alliance at 70,” she said.

Another summit goal for most European leaders, is to simply avoid a Trump flare-up, like those that have happened in past meetings.

NATO meetings
President Donald Trump meets with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the United Nations General Assembly, New York. VOA

Many have discovered this can be achieved through flattery. “They can talk about all the things that they’ve done and very smartly suggest that President Trump has generated the kind of pressure to make those things happen,” Schmitt said.

“They can actually praise President Trump, even though this is very hard for them to do because of the personality clashes.”

Many will be watching Trump’s encounters with Macron, including their bilateral meeting, as well as with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson has pleaded for Trump to stay out of the upcoming British election during his London trip.

The senior administration official said that Trump is “aware of this” and “absolutely cognizant of not wading into other countries’ elections.”

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Other potential clashes are simmering too. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that Emmanuel Macron’s NATO “brain-death” warning reflects a “sick and shallow” understanding, telling the French president “you should check whether you are brain dead.”

The French foreign ministry has summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Paris to protest the statement. (VOA)