The new kid in the class is glib and loud, while the gal in charge of the “cool kids” pretended he hadn’t even entered the classroom. At least, that’s the way it seems from watching President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Hamburg last weekend at the Group of 20 (G-20) summit involving a majority of the world’s most industrialized countries.
In the weeks before the meeting, analysts and partisans were praying for some kind of moral reckoning for Trump on his arrival in Hamburg, the heart of Germany’s political left. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords in early June had sent many European leaders into a state of shock, given that the European Union’s plan to cut its climate emissions dramatically is its pre-eminent geopolitical strategy.
Speaking before the German Parliament in late June, Merkel said of the U.S. withdrawal that “the climate treaty is irreversible and is not negotiable” – a direct rebuke of Trump’s decision to go it alone concerning climate change.
In other words, a beat-down in the lunchroom was expected.
Nevertheless, Trump and Merkel played nice in front of the dignitaries during the July 8-9 summit and the United States dissented from the 19 other countries’ consensus language on climate change in the final joint declaration with relative ease. The White House even was allowed to insert language saying the United States “will endeavor to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently.”
The addition of the clean fossil fuel language was a “poker tell” to the radically divergent strategies at the heart of the chasm between United States and European Union on energy and climate policy. The problems undermining the Paris Accord—its voluntary and top-down nature, in particular—have been highlighted repeatedly by R Street and others. The facts of the case remain unchanged.
The United States, through the development of hydraulic fracturing and subsequent very low natural gas prices, has cut its energy-related carbon emissions more than any other member of the G-20 since 2005. The reason has nothing to do with international agreements or top-down approaches.
Instead, market forces drove natural gas drillers in the late 2000s to develop the hydraulic fracturing of shale basins in Pennsylvania and Texas. The explosion of natural gas supplies soon made it the fossil fuel of choice, over coal, for electricity plants around the country. The rest is history.
Since peaking in 2007, U.S. energy-related carbon emissions are down roughly 14 percent, while Germany, which sees itself as the world leader in climate change, had its carbon emissions fall 7 percent during the same period.
Given the size of the U.S. economy, the scale of the emissions savings has been enormous, with U.S. emissions falling 600 million metric tons compared to Germany 70 million tons over the same time period. All this while the European Union spent $1.2 trillion on wind, solar and bio-energy subsidies and an emissions trading scheme (ETS) that priced carbon too low to be effective.
Merkel waited until the very end of the summit to express her disdain: “Unfortunately – and I deplore this – the United States of America left the climate agreement,” she said in her closing statement.
As it stands, the differences in energy and climate outlook between the United States and Europe could not be wider. The United States looks to export both oil and natural gas into Europe. Meanwhile, both Germany and France are constraining both nuclear power and all fossil fuel use, as they aim for a dramatic cut in emissions by midcentury.
Perhaps French President Emmanuel Macron, who is also a new kid in the class, has a different plan to bring Trump into the climate club when he hosts Trump for Bastille Day celebrations in Paris July 14.
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