If there were a country whose government nobody wanted to dismantle what its previous leadership had done, it was the United States. For that reason, the presidential executive order that President Trump signed last week in the name of “promoting energy independence and a growing economy” left no one indifferent.
According to official data, existing jobs in the renewable energy industry in the United States will exceed those in the oil industry. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that since its inception in 1992, the Energy Star program has generated an estimated savings of $430 billion in consumer energy bills and avoided 2.7 billion tons of greenhouse effect gases. Even though more than 23 states and local governments, among those California and New York, have declared that they would defend the Clean Power Plan in court, Trump has decided to deeply cut not only the budget of the EPA, and with it many of its programs, but also the Clean Power Plan.
The presidential order calls for the review of all the regulations that “potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources, with particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear energy resources,” and revokes all instructions and regulations aimed at combating climate change. Among those included is the use of social carbon pricing in the political layout. In other words, walking back the steps that have allowed the Northern region to reduce its participation in world carbon dioxide emissions from 24 percent in 1990 to 16 percent in 2015, and eliminating with the stroke of a pen the Clean Power Act, all of which would have positioned them as a leader in the war against climate change on the international stage.
The analysts agree that it will take years to revise and withdraw all the regulations relating to climate change, and that there will be important legal challenges which include the difficulties of Trump’s EPA in justifying economic and scientific conclusions that are opposed to those that the Obama administration defended. But there is no doubt that the United States’ leadership in the fight against climate change is behind us.
However, it seems that the rest of the world continues in another direction. According to information from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, in 2015 renewable energy was responsible for approximately 90 percent of newly generated energy on a global level. The cost of clean technologies has been reduced by 40 percent (wind) and 90 percent (LED) in less than five years. Even the stock exchanges are incorporating benchmarks and differentiated platforms of portfolios for bond issuance that fulfill the ever-exigent environmental, social and governance criteria as a response to the requirements of the stockholders, both individuals and corporations.
On the other hand, as a way to continue reflecting the social cost of carbon on the economy, currently more than 40 countries and more than 20 cities, states and provinces around the world, among them a great majority of European countries, China and many U.S. states, are already using, or planning to put into practice, mechanisms for setting the rate for carbon, which represents more than 22 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. And the icing on the cake: Recently, the CEOs of giant oil tankers, Shell, Exxon and British Petroleum have called for carbon pricing as a way to fight climate change.
The citizens’ movements that call to “disinvest” in fossil fuels are gaining more adherents every day. Investment funds, pension funds and even sovereign wealth funds from countries such as Norway and Ireland have decided to retire funds totally or partially invested in fossil fuels. According to different sources, the total is already over $5 trillion disinvested all over the world.
For its part, China is determined to take the leadership position that the United States has vacated. The country is the greatest emitter of greenhouse effect gases in the world, producing 27 percent of global emissions, primarily due to the creation of coal-based energy plants, which are also the main cause of high levels of atmospheric contamination in large Asian cities. Between 2015 and 2016, Chinese authorities closed more than 1,000 mines and other such carbon-based energy plants. According to figures from IEEFA, government programs for renewable energy make up the not inconsiderable amount of $474 billion. The scope of China’s internal renewable energy program has surpassed all expectations with the consequential technological and economic development model that the Chinese private sector has capitalized on with the government’s ¨Going Global¨ energy strategy. Currently, Chinese businesses dominate the international renewable energy market.
Such is the impact that the International Energy Agency has declared that global carbon dioxide emissions stemming from energy creation were stalled for the third consecutive year in 2016, primarily thanks to the actions taken by China.
Chile also is advancing in the same direction. Currently there are 4,265 megawatts of non-conventional renewable energies that represent 14.7 percent of total production, according to the Chilean Association for Renewable Energy. In 2006 it represented less than one percent.
Finally, a group of local business leaders from diverse industries, scholars and representatives from civilian society met with President Bachelet and the Ministers of the Environment and Energy in La Moneda [Editor’s note: the seat of the president of Chili] as a sign of support for the utilization of carbon pricing to combat climate change.
Before this international stage in which everything seems to be pointing towards the development of a less carbon-heavy economy, the energy policies of Trump will reduce the pace of progress given the weight of the U.S. on economy and global emissions. However, it would seem that a large majority of human beings understand that sustainable development is a one-way street: a path that will ensure the survival and well-being of the human species.