Trump Is Dumping The Climate Fetish. What About Theresa May?

  • Date: 20/11/16
  • Dominic Lawson, The Sunday Times

If Theresa May ever wanted to demonstrate real substance in her stated desire to represent the interests of “the just-managing ordinary workers” over the concerns of the “Westminster elite”, scrapping the Climate Change Act would hit the bullseye. Ask the Donald.

The piercing call to prayer of the muezzin is a familiar sound to anyone who has spent time in Marrakesh. But a different wailing rent the air there last week. It came from the 20,000 or so people who had jetted in for the annual UN Climate Change Conference.

To describe those delegates and attendant lobbyists as most upset by Donald Trump’s victory in the battle for the US presidency does no justice to their grief. The Guardian’s man at this colossal carbon-fest reported that many were in tears. One told him: “My heart is absolutely broken at the election of Trump.” Another lamented: “Everyone is in shock.”

The reason for this mass nervous breakdown of environmentalists is obvious. Trump has declared that the “concept of global warming” was “created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive”. In this spirit, he has pledged to reverse President Obama’s signing of the Paris agreement, in which the US for the first time committed itself to CO2 emission reductions under a UN-regulated scheme.

Unlike Trump’s better-known pledge to introduce protectionist measures against Chinese imports via steeply increased tariffs, this would be one with no downside for American consumers. And, given Obama had used an “executive agreement” to give US consent to the Paris accord, rather than seek the approval of Congress, it would hardly be inappropriate if his successor was similarly imperial in revoking it. Trump’s team has also indicated — to make matters clearer still — that it might simply withdraw America from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Chinese government is rattled by this (though not breaking down in sobs). Its senior climate change negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, responded to Trump’s election by declaring: “A wise political leader should take policy stances that conform with global trends. If they resist this trend, I don’t think they’ll win the support of their people.” It is most unusual for the Chinese government to comment on foreign election results, sensitive as it is to any external criticism of its own political processes.

Actually Trump was wrong. The UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change was not a Chinese plan to boost its own exporters at the expense of the West’s industrial base; it was a plan by western governments to penalise their own industrial base, to the benefit of the economies of China and the rest of the developing world.

The larger economies of the EU in particular have imposed costly carbon-emission-reduction programmes on their own industries — while China has been building coal plants at the rate of two a week. Given that coal is the cheapest (and most carbon-intensive) large-scale form of energy generation and China has become the world’s largest economy as a result of this breakneck industrialisation, Trump, in his cartoonish way, was on to something.

His position on this was actually the main reason why he broke the Democrats’ hold on the so-called Rust Belt states — and thus won the presidency. Behind big posters with the legend “Trump digs coal”, he declared in rallies: “We’re going to save the coal industry. Believe me, I love those people.” Then he would put on a miner’s helmet and make digging motions.

In fact, it is not emission-reduction programmes that have been the principal cause of more than 30,000 coalminers losing their jobs during the Obama presidency; that industry’s bane has been the rise of the US shale gas sector, which has tapped into vast reserves made accessible by new drilling techniques. The effect has been to cut US emissions at a rate much faster than Europe has achieved by its quixotic wind-power programme, because gas, though a fossil fuel, emits half coal’s CO2 per unit of energy.

Only last week the US Geological Survey revealed the discovery of the largest continuous oil and gas deposit in the country’s history: it estimated that a swathe of west Texas known as the Wolfcamp shale contains 20bn barrels of oil and 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Remember that the principal consumer-based argument given for “decarbonisation” by our own Department of Energy and Climate Change under prime ministers Blair, Brown and Cameron was that gas would become ever more expensive and therefore wind power would soon require no subsidies. This was a colossal misjudgment, caused by what is politely termed confirmation bias.

Seven years ago I wrote that this desire to dupe the public into thinking decarbonisation would save the nation money would only outsource chunks of our manufacturing industry to China. This was exemplified by the subsequent crisis at our largest remaining steel plant at Port Talbot. Its owner, Tata, had long been imploring the government to reconsider a “climate-change policy” under which prices of electricity for British industrial users are twice the EU average. [….]

If Trump does pull the US out of the futile UN programme to prevent manmade climate change — it’s an impossible objective with the developing world continuing rapidly to increase its exploitation and consumption of coal — perhaps a British cabinet might dare to question Westminster’s religious faith in the Climate Change Act.

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