EU Ready to Resist Trump on Climate as Kerry Offers Assurance

  • Europe to stick to its 2030 target to cut carbon at least 40%
  • Kerry says ‘no one has a right’ to risk the fate of billions

US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech at the COP22 climate change conference on Nov. 16.

Photographer: AFP via Getty Images

Unswayed by Donald Trump’s election in the U.S., the European Union is prepared to move ahead on its climate change promises even if the president elect reneges on his country’s side of the bargain.

“We have already cooperated with President George Bush Jr., which was difficult, but we didn’t stop,” said Peter Zapfel, head of the European Commission’s emissions trading unit in Brussels. “We have predictability in Europe. We have already agreed our 2030 targets.”

In the wake of the U.S. elections, Europe vowed to stick to its environmental policies and climate targets regardless of what the U.S. does. Trump, who’s said climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, has vowed to cancel the Paris Agreement brought into force this year by more than 190 other countries and pledged to increase production of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry moved to assuage concern on Wednesday at a climate change conference in Marrakech, Morocco.

“Some issues look a little bit different when you’re in office than when you’re on the campaign trail,” Kerry told participants at the annual United Nations talks on climate in Marrakech. “No one has a right to make decisions for billions of people based solely on ideology.”

EU Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said Trump’s administration would meet a wall of resistance from the majority of the population, from business and from almost every other country in the world if the U.S. renounced efforts to protect the environment.

“When you take office you have to see what the global trends are,” Canete said at a press conference in Marrakech on Wednesday. “If you go against the global trend, you make a mistake. The U.S. is a country leading in innovation and green energy is about innovation. It’s a country that’s leading in growth and jobs. And clean energy is about growth and jobs.”

The 28-nation EU already has already established a better track record on leading climate action than the U.S. In 2005 it launched the world’s biggest carbon market even as its transatlantic ally failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. China and India similarly avoided making international commitments until last year.

Stricter Targets

European leaders decided in 2014 that the bloc should move to a stricter target of reducing emissions by at least 40 percent in 2030 from 1990 levels. That’s tighter than the 20 percent cut envisioned for 2020. Policy makers are currently working to translate the political agreement into binding laws. The goal for the next decade was also submitted as Europe’s contribution to the global emission-reduction Paris deal.

Investors are concerned that once in office, he will weaken demand for renewable energy by turning away from President Barack Obama’s shift to a cleaner economy. Kerry issued a note of caution for President-elect Trump.

“The global community is more united than ever,” Kerry said. “No one should doubt the overwhelming majority of the citizens of the United States who know that climate change is happening and who are determined to keep our commitments made in Paris.”

The risk that the U.S. breaks its climate pledges may be at least partially offset by China’s efforts to reduce pollution. Both China and India, the two biggest emitters among developing nations, will continue to lower greenhouse gas emissions regardless of U.S. actions, according to Yukari Takamura, professor at Nagoya University in Japan, who has been following international climate talks for 15 years.

“They have their own national interest in doing so, for instance because of mitigating domestic air pollution,” Takamura said. “With regard to the EU, I hope their actions will continue. Moreover, the question that everyone will look into would be whether the EU will be able to take the lead facing a lack of the U.S. leadership.”

The caveat for European ambition may be closer to home. Much will depend on the economic performance of the bloc, according to Elchin Mammadov, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence in London. The growth of gross domestic product in Germany, the region’s biggest economy, slowed to the weakest pace in a year last quarter, a reminder of the fragility of the euro area’s recovery in a time of rising uncertainty.

The European Commission cut its 2017 economic-growth forecasts for the euro area last week, to 1.5 percent from 1.8 percent seen in May. The Brussels-based executive warned of instability caused by the U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union and the surge of anti-globalization and populism around the world.

“If the economic recovery continues, then Europe is likely to maintain and expand its environmental commitments even if the U.S. backtracks on its climate goals,” Mammadov said. “However, if we get another recession, then the EU may use it as a reason to scale back its climate ambitions.”