Trump energy plans unlikely to lead to coal revival

President Trump’s energy plans are unlikely to lead to a revival of coal for power generation in the USA, participants at a media briefing heard this week. 

Donald Trump By Gage Skidmore

President Trump aims to boost fossil fuel production in the US. Image: Gage Skidmore, creative commons licence

Speakers from the UK and US were discussing the energy and climate change policy implications, both for the US and globally, of the Trump administration as we approach the President’s 100 days in office. 

Kevin Book, Managing Director, ClearView Energy Partners LLC, based in Washington DC, said the future looks ‘quite green’ for renewable power developers:

“Despite President Trump’s pledge to pull out of the Paris climate pact, the US seems likely to remain in the agreement, at least for the time being. Staying in also gives the US a seat at the table to advance its interests, something that a number of fossil fuel companies have been lobbying the administration on, and it could force other parties to throw the first stone in the event of disagreement or failure to attain compliance targets,” he said.

“On the Clean Power Plan, the main impact is likely to be a slowing of the coal to gas switch, notably for future retirements of coal plants. For renewable sources of power, however, the future looks quite green, as there is significant support for renewables due to US jobs and manufacturing in Republican-led states.”

Joan MacNaughton, Chair of the Climate Group and Honorary Chair of the World Energy Trilemma of the World Energy Council (WEC) said that President Trump’s proposals could cede opportunities to other countries:

“President Trump is taking on a Canute-like challenge in try to halt the low carbon transition, to which 185 countries committed in Paris. Action to deliver on those commitments is being driven by major investments and global companies, as well as subnational governments in States, Regions and cities across the world who are members of the Under 2 coalition. The coalition now comprises 170 jurisdictions, and covers nearly 1.2bn people and over a third of world GDP,” she said.

“If President Trump persists with his plans the US will cede opportunities to other countries, and investment and industrial activity will flow to them, notably to China and the EU. Low carbon innovation there will drive greater productivity, resilience and competitiveness which the US will forego except to the extent that leadership at State level counteracts federal level shortsightedness.

“Will the US stance slow the pace of the low carbon transition? Probably, for a period and to a limited extent. There is though no evidence of other countries using the US as an excuse to soft-pedal here and on the contrary some signs of determination to fill the vacuum being created by US policy.”

Sam Geall, Research Fellow on Low-Carbon Innovation in China at SPRU and Chatham House Associate Fellow, noted the ‘multiple advantages’ that China sees in tackling climate change.

“In reality, China sees multiple advantages in taking action on climate change. Not only does it face serious risks from domestic impacts, including air pollution and sea-level rise, it also sees economic and diplomatic advantage in being a leader on climate and low-carbon technologies,” he said.

“If the US does not support its own renewable industry, it will lose out to China. While there are just 50,000 coal miners at work in the US, China expects to create 9 million new jobs in clean energy over the next four years alone. If Trump is serious about stimulating manufacturing based growth, renewables aren’t a sector you turn your back on.

“China was very quick, following the election of Donald Trump, to reiterate its commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, both at the Marrakesh climate talks at the time of the election and afterwards. Indeed, in Davos this year President Xi went a step further and warned against walking away from the deal, in an implicit message to the US."

Pete Ogden, Vice President for Energy, Climate and the Environment at the UN Foundation and former White House National Security Council Director for Energy and Climate Change, said that UN member states were ‘unflinchingly committed’ to the Paris climate change Agreement.

“The global community is unflinchingly committed to the Paris Agreement. We’ve seen that resolve expressed many times in the past few months. Any move on the part of the US to weaken the agreement from within or withdraw altogether would meet considerable resistance and have far-reaching consequences,” he said.

“The Paris Agreement addresses climate change – and its associated economic, environmental, and security costs – in the only way possible: through a global commitment to collective action. You are seeing governors, mayors, and businesses across the United States press forward in their desire to build – and inhabit - a clean energy economy and to make the United States a global leader.” 

  • Kevin Book, Pete Ogden, Joan MacNaughton and Sam Geall were participating in an online media briefing on the new US Administration’s approach to energy and climate change, hosted in London by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU). An audio recording of the briefing is available on request.