Friday 23 February 2018

An ill wind blows cold for the old world order

China and Russia will be licking their lips after Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris Accord, writes Willie Kealy

Alarmed reaction: Demonstrators outside the White House protest against President Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate change accord. Photo: AP photo
Alarmed reaction: Demonstrators outside the White House protest against President Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate change accord. Photo: AP photo
Willie Kealy

Willie Kealy

The geo-political consequences of Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris Accord will be at least as significant as any effect it will have on the global effort to deal with climate change.

The US president has already created a sizeable distance between his country and its chief allies around the world accusing, in turn, neighbours Mexico and Canada, and then Australia and practically the entire European Union of somehow taking advantage of America in trade. Add to this his veiled threat that should any current US ally some day need help from the insurance scheme that is Nato, they better have their premiums paid up, and it is apparent that President Trump has in fact created his own Brexit for the US.

And just as when the British people decided to leave the EU, the response from the rest of Europe was pretty instant and bloody-minded, so the German, French and Italian leaders have responded to President Trump by scoffing at his suggestion that they should renegotiate a deal that took two decades to complete, and have instead turned to China and joined with Russia in standing up for the Paris Accord.

China has spent the last few decades steadily and stealthily spreading its influence across the African continent and Russia has cemented its position as the dominant influence in the Middle East.

Now they can both aspire to replace the United States as Europe's favourite uncle. And China which plans to invest $360bn in renewable energy by 2020, creating 13 million jobs, is in pole position. Not bad going for a man who claims to want to put "America first". But then you can't be first if you abandon the race and tear off in a different direction from all the other competitors.

You would find it hard to discover an expert who would claim that the Paris Accord was perfect. But after decades of false starts, it did seem at least an honest effort even if it may yet prove too little too late. Temperatures continue to rise, ice caps to recede, and weather patterns become more and more extreme and unpredictable. And still there are those who claim it is all a hoax - why, it is hard to say. Maybe they are just ignorant, like Danny Healy Rae and Michael O'Leary and Boris Johnson and Jeremy Clarkson.

The idea of a widespread conspiracy against alternative energy is harder to credit given that even the huge energy companies are investing billions in wind and solar energy research and in the process creating very large numbers of jobs in America - a 24 per cent increase last year alone from what was admittedly a relatively low base. And they would hope that as they make progress, they will be able to export their expertise around the world. Just like the computer industry, aided substantially by government backing in its infancy, did. But with official US policy now setting its face against alternative energy research, this seems less likely. Especially as the rest of the world becomes disinclined to look to America to help solve the great energy questions any more.

Before he made his decision to pull out of the Paris Accord, President Trump had a letter from 20 Republican senators, including the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell (from Kentucky coal mining country) beseeching him to jettison the Paris Accord. But he also had a letter from 25 of the most influential US business leaders, urging the opposite course.

He chose to ignore the business leaders and 195 fellow world leaders and Pope Francis and side with Syria and Nicaragua and those he sees as his core voters, like the coal miners whom he imagines would rather go back down the pit than see new opportunities for themselves and their children in clean energy. For a man who craves adulation, it matters not that coal is on the way out, or that talking about 'clean' coal is a contradiction in terms.

Donald Trump is not very clever, but he is cunning. If he was clever and actually believed his own arguments on energy, he would have gone along with the Paris Accord and then simply dragged his feet on implementing it, which incidentally is essentially what he is going to have to do anyway since it will be 2020 (the year he will be up for re-election) before he can actually extricate his country from the accord!

But this had nothing to do with climate change or energy policy. It had to do with Donald Trump being desperate to be able to say he has at last managed to do one thing he promised on the campaign trail.

The cost of this ignorant arrogance cannot be underestimated. He had already divided America, but now whole cities and states are coming out to say they will defy the President and implement Paris. Many American business leaders feel the same.

And in the rest of the world he has rearranged what was the order of things since 1945. Theresa May was relatively quiet last week on the Paris Accord, perhaps believing that Britain and the United States, the two countries most responsible for the continued existence of democracy, could soon be a minority of two, while their erstwhile European colleagues cosy up to autocratic superpowers.

We may yet be seeing a development of disastrous proportions with consequences more immediate than anything threatened by climate change.

Sunday Independent

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