POLITICS

Trump Undermines America's Climate Leadership, And China's Ready To Step Up

His executive order puts pressure on the rest of the world, including Australia.

29/03/2017 2:31 PM AEDT | Updated 29/03/2017 4:28 PM AEDT

CANBERRA -- U.S President Donald Trump is unlikely to get what he wants with his latest "Energy Independence" executive order. And for few reasons.

And for all Trump's "American first" rhetoric, China -- already predicted as a future climate change leader -- may end up the big winner.

President Trump's key move on energy independence has been triggering a review of Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, which is regarded as the United States' most important policy for reducing carbon emissions. The plan targets the U.S. electricity sector which is responsible for 30 percent of all the nation's greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump is also lifting the temporary ban on the sale of new coal leases on federal lands, scrapping mandates for reducing leaks of methane, dropping a federal guidance for agencies to factor climate change into policy making and disbanding a team tasked with calculating the "social cost of carbon".

The President has vowed to spark an "energy revolution" and declared jobs, particularly coal jobs, were a priority over climate policy.

"That is a really dangerous signal," Olivia Kember, acting CEO of the Climate Institute, told The Huffington Post Australia.

"The U.S has provided really important leadership, however what he has signed is going to take quite a few years to play out."

So perhaps, a slow revolution or -- like the Trump immigration bans which are still going through the courts -- the revolution may hit a wall.

"It is going to face resistance," Kember said. "It is not going to do what he thinks it is going to do and so to some extent we could see some of the fears that people have about the process might turn out to be overblown."

The United States has not pulled out the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, as threatened by Trump, but America's climate leadership, fostered under Obama, is still at great risk.

And has Trump killed the accord by his overnight actions, anyway?

It is unclear how the U.S. can now meet its commitments under the Paris agreement without the Clean Power Plan in place.

"The rest of the world will be asked to cover for the U.S. falling behind," British author and environmental activist Mark Lynas told CNN.

"It's extremely concerning and I can only hope that the people's response to Trump's order will be sufficient to reverse it."

Could the industrial powerhouse which has invested heavily in renewable energy be the world's new climate leader?

China has already indicated it is ready to step up.

In a landmark speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, Chinese President Xi Jinping has defended the Paris climate Accord, lectured Trump on the benefits of globalisation, free trade and clean energy and urged other countries to support international cooperation to solve the world's most urgent challenges.

The world's most populous nation and number one emitter of greenhouse gases is leaving the rest of the world behind on clean energy. China is aggressively rolling out solar plants and wind farms. It makes most of the world's solar panels and wind turbines. It has promised to cut back on investing in overseas coal projects.

"As the world's largest emitter, if China continues to fulfil the deal that was made with Obama, all is not lost, but if it seizes the opportunity to abandon the Paris agreement, then we really face an extreme and terrifying future," Lynas said.

The "Energy Independence" executive order puts pressure on the rest of the world, including Australia.

"Every country has to do its bit because that is the only way to get sufficient action to make the difference we need," Kember said.

Dropping out climate action because the United States is absent is not an option, according to Kember.

"That's the argument we used to make about China and it turns out they are doing quite a lot."

There is a certain cohort of climate sceptics and deniers in Australia's parliament. Most of them would be happy to see the Paris accord shrivel and die.

Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg is playing down a global impact from Trump's actions. Australia's Paris target is a promise to reduce emissions to 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.

"More than 140 countries have ratified the Paris agreement and more than 190 countries have signed it," Frydenberg told reporters in Canberra.

"This has been achieved in record time.

"Australia takes its international commitments very seriously. We are already making great progress in our 2030 target and we will continue to do so and I know many other countries are going down the same path."

America is not just any other country, but Frydenberg has faith.

"There are many policies that the Americans are undertaking that is reducing their emissions and that they are investing in efficiency standards and innovation.

"They are an important player in the international energy scene and we will continue to have very productive and constructive discussions with them."

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