Climate Policy Energy Environment 2 June, 2017 9:00 am   
COMMENTS: Konrad Świrski

Trump – Poland’s biggest climate ally?

“Except for showcasing the First Ladies’ fashionable gowns, the Sicily’s G7 summit also resulted in the predictable appearance of support for Poland’s lonely climate negotiation position,” writes professor Konrad Świrski from the Warsaw University of Technology and the Transition Technologies company. 

The US President upheld (this time loudly on an international forum) his negative position on the Paris Agreement (COP 21 – December 2015), and to the surprise and irritation of the players from other countries, did not follow the global interpretation. It is surprising that, first of all, Trump’s election campaign promise has been kept (after all, which politician is serious about what he says in election campaigns); and secondly, that the biggest world power is officially breaking up with political correctness and total support for fighting CO2 as the climate’s enemy.

The Paris Agreement questioned by Donald Trump is in itself the essence of the modern, global state of politics, where everything is beautiful, colorful and friendly on the outside, but where cruel international reality lurks beneath. It is worth reminding that the signed deal is completely unclear and vague. The necessity of limiting the (average?) temperature increase by 2⁰C on Earth within the next decades through “individual contribution of every state”, in reality meant that every country interpreted the text the way it wanted, and then started to lobby for its version.

Therefore, the COP 21’s achievement is not what was actually signed. It is about what can be appropriated on that basis, and in which way future political and regulatory actions will be directed. To us, Poles it seemed that at COP 21 we did everything and will do even more. And yet, the states leading the “green” changes translated Paris into an even harder fight against CO2 emissions and direct reform of the ETS. Most probably in the future, they will push for further decarbonization and even bigger restrictions on emissions – not just 43% by 2030 – as it is currently planned, but even up to 50%, or even potential bans on coal. During the election campaign, Trump by supporting, among others, carbon states in the US, placed himself on the other end of this policy and was consistently against such ideas. By rejecting the agreement he is blocking those US states that are determining their individual targets for renewable energy. To the surprise of everybody, after the election he started to implement his campaign promises in practice by, among others, limiting the role of the Environmental Protection Agency, helping fossil fuel energy companies and by generally halting the trend towards renewable resources started by Obama (which is not as radical as the one in Europe). Therefore, everybody uses the international climate agreement as they see fit.

The current crisis is serious, the parties did not manage to include vacuous sentences in the G7’s final communique and the differences were articulated (in a diplomatic language) directly. Leaks are revealing that Trump will either completely reject the Paris Agreement, or a special form of participation for the US will be negotiated as part of the original deal, which will completely absolve the US from any responsibility for reducing CO2.

This means the US will be able to reject any CO2 emissions limits, and thus freely use fossil fuels in its energy mix and reduce subsidies for renewable energy sources, but will not completely block the entire energy sector as it is in our case. In both cases this will surely put us back on the horse when it comes to our Polish coal-fuelled energy, and our conviction that the EU climate policy is hostile towards our coal mines and power plants. Whatever happens Poland will stand by the US and will be giving Trump as an example, which will unfortunately also increase the dissonance of our negotiations with the “renewable” part of Europe, because Trump is slowly becoming enemy no.1 of the “progressive and environmentally-friendly world”. Unfortunately this is also not boding well because both sides are blocking out each others’ arguments, which is why extremists are winning.

If the US abandons the “Paris agreement” (without a capital letter as it is becoming harder to ratify), the EU climate policy will be further temporarily radicalized. Despite the fact that Poland has an ally who is far away across the ocean, it will be rewarded with even stricter emission limits and even faster path to decarbonization. At the same time, the entire world will continue to emit CO2 and the temperature will surely increase for a while, just like further waves of migrants will be reaching European shores. Next year another climate meeting (perhaps in Poland?) will take place, and the participants will need to solve an interesting problem – how to unite the opposites. In our new world one can be sure for certain that politicians from all options are detached from real world problems, and the only thing engaging about them are their First Wives’ or Husbands’ fashionable gowns.