The new president has made clear his affinity for fossil fuels, and has green-lighted the Dakota Access Pipeline. He will likely begin further deregulation in the coming days, convinced of the sector’s ability to revive America’s ‘failing’ industries. Yet China, the US’ closest economic rival, is pursuing an ever-increasing role in green energy. The question is – Has Trump missed a trick?

  • Trump’s climate change deniers
  • China’s huge investment in clean energy
  • US domination of energy market at risk

Trump’s ideas about climate change and the policies he wishes to pursue in its regard have been well publicised. “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” read a tweet of the President, dated 6th Nov. 2012.

In his campaign to become 45th President of the US, he downplayed this statement, preferring to emphasise his support for the deregulation of the oil and gas industry. With the election victory behind him, his nominees for departments deeply involved in both energy and climate change policy signalled a continuation of this stance.

Rick Perry, the former Texas governor and Trump’s nominee as energy secretary, recommended the abolition of the Energy Department he is seeking to direct in 2011. Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who has been chosen to head the Environmental Protection Agency has sued that very agency multiple times. During his confirmation hearing last week, he asserted that his own opinion on climate change, was “immaterial to the job”.

Today, Trump signed executive orders demanding that the government reconsider the pipeline, which was dismissed by the Obama administration. The former president’s reasoning? The pipeline was not in line with America’s leadership in the fight against climate change.

China moving in the opposite direction

China recently announced another huge new investment in green energy. $360 billion will be spent by 2020, and the government has also stated that this will provide 13 million new jobs. Mary Kay Magistad of Public Radio International believes it’s just the beginning:

“If you look at what people are saying across the energy industry, the future is in renewables, and natural gas and so forth,” Magistad says. “The cost of renewables has come down so far so fast that in some places it’s actually competitive with coal, and even beats coal. And the cost will probably continue to drop.”

In direct contrast with Trump’s plans, China also announced last week the cancellation of 104 planned coal-fired power plants. This trend of decreasing coal usage can also be identified in the wider energy market. Coal use is in sharp decline in the US, not due to strict government regulations but the surplus of cheap natural gas available from fracking.

“In the United States there aren’t even a million jobs in renewable energy” currently, Magistad says. “In China there about double that number already, and the Chinese government is saying it thinks it can get 13 million jobs in this sector by 2020.”

“Make China Great Again”

“The best way to make America great again is by owning the clean technologies of the future,” said Michael Liebreich, advisor to the UN and World Economic Forum on energy. “Not only will this create countless well-paid, fulfilling jobs for Americans, but it will also lock in the US’s geopolitical leadership for another generation.”

The threats of Trump to leave the Paris climate change deal have unnerved many scientists. There is concern that without the US the 2C temperature rise, considered a crucial ceiling, will be much more difficult to avoid. Yet, the other powers involved in the Paris deal sense an opportunity to step up, should the US renege on its promises.

The EU environment commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete, said that climate change was “bigger than any one country” and that the EU and China relationship would be integral to the success of the Paris deal. “China is demonstrating a strong commitment to implementing the Paris agreement,” he told the Guardian. “EU-China cooperation is therefore needed for a strong political leadership in global climate action.”

As it stands, China is already acknowledged to be the world leader in clean energy and at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, its president, Xi Jinping, made it clear that his nation is committed to action on climate change. He also asserted that China’s investments in green energy were already “paying off”. Perhaps Trump would do well to follow his lead, if not for the good of the climate, for the good of America’s industry.