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Cheers! President Trump is breaking the ‘climate spell’


August 13, 2018 at 5:00 AM
Getting out of the Paris Agreement was just the first step on the road to a realist global energy policy.

Thirteen years ago, a Republican president who had pulled the United States out of an onerous climate treaty faced isolation at the annual gathering of Western leaders. “Tony Blair is contemplating an unprecedented rift with the U.S. over climate change at the G8 summit next week, which will lead to a final communiqué agreed by seven countries with President George Bush left out on a limb,” the Guardian reported of the meeting at Glen­eagles, Scotland. France and Germany preferred an unprecedented split communiqué to a weak one, the article said.

George W. Bush, who had pulled the country out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2003, blinked and agreed to an official document that affirmed global warming was occurring and that “we know enough to act now.” The 2005 G8 put the United States back on the path that ultimately led through the Copenhagen climate summit—when China and India thwarted U.S.-led attempts at a global climate treaty—to the Paris Agreement 11 years later.

There was a very different American president this June at the Charlevoix G7 (as it has been since Russia’s suspension in 2014). Had it not been for the row with Justin Trudeau, when the Canadian prime minister responded to President Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs with retaliatory tariffs of his own, the big story would have been the climate split. Where 15 years ago the mere possibility of isolation pushed Bush to compromise, Trump embraced the isolation and inserted an America-only paragraph into the summit communiqué outlining a position fundamentally contradicting the rest of the group’s.

“The United States believes sustainable economic growth and development depends on universal access to affordable and reliable energy resources,” it reads, going on to offer a manifesto for global energy realism. That single paragraph is more definitive than the president’s announcement last August that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris treaty. After all, George W. Bush nixed the Kyoto Protocol that Bill Clinton signed. And Trump, when announcing the Paris withdrawal, left the door open to U.S. participation in a renegotiated climate deal. At Charlevoix, he closed it. Unlike in 2005, it’s very hard now to see any way back.

This is about far more than process. Trump is breaking the spell of inevitability of the transition to renewable energy. The impression of irresistible momentum has been one of the most potent tools in enforcing compliance with the climate catechism. Like socialism, the clean-energy transition will fail because it doesn’t work. But it requires strong leadership to avoid the ruin that will disprove the false promise of cost-free decarbonization.

That reality is already hurting those countries that are farther down the renewable-energy path of ruin than the United States—and, when offered the chance, voters are taking it out on politicians. In March, a fanatically pro-wind and solar energy Labor government in South Australia, one of the eight states and territories that make up the country, decided to make the state elections a referendum on renewable energy. With some of the world’s most expensive electricity and a serious blackout in 2016, South Australia voters kicked out Labor and voted in a government vowing to repeal the state’s renewable-energy target.

Days before Justin Trudeau took the center of the global stage as host of the G7 summit, his Liberal party was trounced in provincial elections in Ontario. The province’s party had won four consecutive terms in office and had pressed virtually every pro-renewable, anti-hydrocarbon policy imaginable. In the June 7 elections, they took just seven seats in the 124-seat legislature. “I made a promise to the people that we would take immediate action to scrap the cap-and-trade carbon tax and bring their gas prices down,” newly elected premier Doug Ford announced.

Nowhere has confrontation with the physical and economic realities of renewable energy been more painful than Germany, the birthplace of renewable-energy ideology. As party leaders negotiated a new coalition agreement after the September 2017 elections, they acknowledged for the first time that Germany was going to miss the sacrosanct 2020 target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels. This had been set in 2007, and the first 20 percent had been easy. Thanks to German reunification, the former East Germany had seen its industries collapse, and there were plenty of inefficient power stations to close. It had always been clear, Angela Merkel declared three weeks after the September federal elections, that it was not going to be easy to cut the other 20 percent “at a time of relatively strong economic growth.” Note: Stronger growth equals higher emissions.