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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

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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Meaning of Denuclearization For North Korea

Kim Jong Un is on the TV screen.
FILE - A visitor walks by a TV screen showing file footage of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, March 29, 2018. VOA

At the upcoming inter-Korean summit slated for late April, South Korea should seek a clear understanding of North Korea’s interpretation of what the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will mean, said former U.S. officials who have dealt with North Korea extensively.

As President Donald Trump appears to be optimistic about the prospects of potential talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the former U.S. officials remain skeptical Washington and Pyongyang share the same meaning of denuclearization.

U.S. officials confirmed on Sunday that North Korea directly told the White House that Kim would be interested in talks and was prepared to discuss denuclearization at a summit with Trump.

Kim Jong un and Donald Trump
North Korea plans on Denuclearization.

On Monday, Trump said, “I think there’ll be great respect paid by both parties, and hopefully we’ll be able to make a deal on the de-nuking of North Korea.” Trump said he’ll meet with Kim in late May or early June, but the date and place have not been confirmed.

Differing interpretations

Mitchell Reiss, director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department during the George W. Bush administration, urged caution until it is better known what Kim means when he says he is willing to talk about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

“What North Korea means by denuclearization is very different than what the United States and what South Korea traditionally has meant by denuclearization,” said Reiss, who negotiated with the North over the nuclear issue in 1990s. “And in my conversations with North Koreans over the years, it is clear that the United States has to take a number of steps first, such as ending the alliance with South Korea, removing all of its military troops off the Korean Peninsula.”

Also Read: North Korea may have stopped its n-reactor, satellite images show

Dennis Wilder, senior director for East Asian Affairs at the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration, said South Korean President Moon Jae-in should seek out North Korea’s view of denuclearization during the inter-Korean summit as a way to pave the way for the U.S. to discuss denuclearization at the anticipated U.S.-North Korea summit.

“It’s a very important question to deal with – [North Korea’s] perception of denuclearization – before the president of the United States meets with Kim Jong Un,” said Wilder. “If the South Korean president could get more specifics as to how the North Koreans are looking at this question, that will help the United States set up the summit.”

Other former U.S. officials think that while Seoul should ask Pyongyang to clarify its meaning of denuclearization at the inter-Korean summit, the actual denuclearization talks should be left for the U.S. to discuss with North Korea.

“Denuclearization is, no doubt, going to be … a U.S. angle,” said William Brown, a former intelligence official who is now an adjunct lecturer at Georgetown University. “The Moon and Kim summit should be getting ready for the denuclearization talks but not actually doing it for themselves.”

The extent of the discussion on denuclearization at the inter-Korean summit, according to Gary Samore, former White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction under president Barack Obama, should be limited to “South Korea having a statement, a communique of a North Korean intent to pursue denuclearization.”

Samore thinks Pyongyang’s written denuclearization intent “will be sufficient for the first meeting.”

Kim Jong Un, the north korean leader.
FILE – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). VOA

‘Broad terms’

Robert Gallucci, chief U.S. negotiator during the North Korean nuclear crisis in 1994, said the inter-Korean summit should create an atmosphere for “future conversations between experts” by touching up on a general framework of talks. He said, “It’s less important that they make a detailed progress in their meeting than it is that they agree on broad terms of what they are trying to accomplish and where they end up.”

Christopher Hill, who negotiated with the North as head of the U.S. delegation during the George W. Bush administration, said close coordination and cooperation between Seoul and Washington are critical when discussing security issues in particular.

“It’s especially important that the South Korean and the U.S. governments continue to have a pattern of close cooperation” and “an adequate consultation to make sure that there’s an agreed pace of progress,” Hill said.

Former U.S. officials are concerned that Seoul would get too far ahead in engaging Pyongyang at the inter-Korean summit and offer incentives such as economic and humanitarian aid and the easing of sanctions imposed against North Korea.

Denuclearization on the mind of Kim Jong Un
Kim Jong-un reportedly declares he is ‘committed to denuclearization’ on the Korean Peninsula

They particularly cautioned that Seoul must stay tough on sanctions. Trump has repeatedly credited sanctions imposed on North Korea as the impetus behind the current thaw in relations.

“I think it will be a big problem if the South Korean side starts to cut back on sanctions,” Brown said.

Also Read: Tense US-North Korea Standoff Slowly Escalates

Wilder voiced similar concerns and warned, “Do not lift the sanctions too soon. The past mistake was to get too easy on North Korea too soon.” Brown and other experts are worried that if Seoul eases sanctions before Kim agrees to take concrete action toward denuclearization, South Korea will undermine Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign.

Seoul and Pyongyang will hold their summit on April 27 in the border village of Panmunjom.

Kim’s intent to discuss denuclearization was initially conveyed by South Korean envoys who traveled to Washington in early March to brief Trump on their meeting with Kim in Pyongyang held a few days earlier.

Christy Lee contributed to this report.  VOA