The looming threat to the Paris climate deal


February 3, 2017

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Oh, come on. He won’t build a wall. He doesn’t want to deport legal migrants. And he won’t want to start a host of trade wars. You take him too literally. He won’t be so bad. He’ll be more… presidential.

No prizes for guessing who we’re talking about. If you hoped that becoming leader of the free world would encourage Donald Trump – sorry, President Trump – to rein in some his more extreme policies then you might have been watching on open-mouthed since his inauguration on 20 January. He has shown that he is willing to deliver some of these extreme policies in radical ways.

And so it will come as no surprise if, as expected, Trump makes good on his pledge to pull the US out of the Paris climate change agreement, signed in December 2015. He has said he will do it, and we expect he will – almost certainly in bombastic fashion.

He is under pressure to stay in. His secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson, the former chief executive at ExxonMobil, has said that it would make sense for the US to stay in the deal to cut emissions and address the impacts of climate change. If the two men clash, though, the ‘short-fingered vulgarian’ will be the only winner.

So what does that mean and should we all give up hope now?

In the 14 months since it was agreed, the Paris deal has been heralded as great for the wind sector. The Global Wind Energy Council said if countries met their targets in the agreement then, by 2030, total wind capacity globally would hit 2,110GW – which is a fivefold increase from 2015 – and attract annual investment of €200bn a year. At that rate we’d all be able to afford Trump-style gold lifts… but don’t place your order just yet!

Clearly, if Trump withdraws the US then it would be bad for the agreement. If one of the world’s largest polluters pulls out of a global commitment to reduce the amount they pollute then it can only be bad. It will make other nations wonder ‘Why bother?’ and, if other big players pull out too, could render the deal meaningless.

But this should not be a disaster for wind. We have always been sceptical about the Paris deal, and see no reason why its collapse should curtail growth in the wind sector in a major way.

Now don’t get us wrong. It is good that 197 nations agreed to keep global warming to “well below” 2°C, as that should mean more investment in renewables. But this was always a high-level deal that gave little in the way of specifics, and came with little power if one of its major polluters – like the US – decided to walk away.

We wrote in the wake of the deal that it was “business as usual”, and this has been the case.

It did not change the fact that manufacturers and developers need to keep driving down the cost of wind energy so it is more attractive than other sources. It did not force investors to back deals that they would otherwise have ignored. And it did not win over politicians that were otherwise hostile to the wind sector.

The expansion of wind has always been dependent on supportive policies at national level and the industry’s strengthening business case. In the last year, we have seen great progress on reducing costs onshore and offshore, but this would have happened even if those 197 nations had failed to reach an agreement.

That is not to say the Paris deal is meaningless. It is a show of global solidarity that underlines the need for low-carbon power, and it would be a shame if Trump kills it. But wind was growing before that agreement. It can keep doing so afterwards.

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