World waits for Trump’s climate assault as coal slumps and solar soars

Intro

White House leaks have revealed President Trump’s likely budget cuts to climate regulations and science, including plans to cancel auto efficiency standards and cut energy efficiency programs. However, it appears that Trump’s efforts to pull the U.S. from the Paris Agreement are still in dispute between various cabinet factions, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson emphasising the negative diplomatic consequences of backing away from the popular global agreement. Beyond Washington D.C., the coal industry continues its death spiral with Moody’s downgrading the industry, despite desperate efforts from fossil fuel acolytes to promote “clean coal”, while China continues to drive market trends by announcing new anti-pollution cuts to coal and steel. On the solutions side of the energy matrix the inexorable march of renewables continues, with new figures showing how solar installations grew by 50 percent in 2016, largely thanks to the US and China.

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Key Points

  • President Trump’s administration is gearing up to recklessly slash budgets for tackling climate change despite the impact on American security and prosperity. This will likely  include dismantling the Clean Power Plan, doing away with CAFE standards for automobiles, cutting the NOAA satellite program by more than half a billion dollars, and cutting the “Energy Star” energy efficiency program.  An Executive Order on the Clean Power Plan was expected this week, but has been pushed back, amid rumours it won’t be as comprehensive as originally promised. Scientists are horrified at the proposed cuts to NOAA’s satellite program, arguing this would set back advancing weather and El Nino forecasts. The Energy Star program is also under threat, as it is revealed Trump himself received nearly $1m from energy efficiency standards in 2012 alone.  On the US’s involvement in the Paris Agreement, rumours continue to abound of a backroom tussle between Trump’s right wing advisor Steve Bannon and, it turns out, new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who argues that the US cannot afford to pull out of the agreement.
  • Coal continues its inexorable demise as the industry, once again, rings hollow with attempts to convince the US government that coal can be “clean” and this represents a new dawn, while investors at Moody’s see through the death rattle of a dying industry and write it down. Elsewhere, China’s coal consumption has fallen for the third year running, and coal plant approvals have fallen by 85 percent, as the government announces it will cut 50 million tons of steel capacity and 150 million tons of coal production this year, and put in place a plan for job transition away from the sector. In the UK, use of coal in power generation fell by 52 percent in 2016, resulting in a near 6 percent drop in carbon pollution.  
  • Renewables are booming according to new figures that show global installations of solar power increased by 50 percent in 2016, driven by the US and China, while new solar PV capacity installed in 2016 reached more than 76 gigawatts, a dramatic increase on the 50GW installed the year before. This has been reflected in the Texas town of  Georgetown, Texas (population: 50,000), the largest US city to go 100 percent renewable, where the Mayor says it was the dropping price of renewable energy that prompted the 2015 decision, calling it a “great economic tool” for the city.  Across the border from the US, Mexico is poised to ramp up solar energy, to the delight of US manufacturers looking for export markets.  India’s Central Electricity Regulatory Commission has announced it wants to slash its renewable energy certificate floor price from 1 April, and the world’s largest solar panel supplier, China’s JinkoSolar Holdings, says it expects shipments to grow by 28 percent.

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QUOTES

  • “The coal industry’s PR flacks may continue to spin tales about endless riches in the Asian coal market, the financials are telling a much more sobering story: that the coal export pipe dream continues to fade away, leaving a bad hangover on the coal industry’s balance sheets and a lingering bad taste in the mouths of coal investors and executives alike.” – Sightline analyst Clark William-Derry.  
  • “I strongly believe in clean energy, in conserving energy, all of that – more than anybody.” President Donald Trump in Trump Tower factsheet.
  • “The truth is now laid bare. Trump and his cronies are serving as agents for fossil fuel interests like ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers in dismantling scientific programs that deal with the inconvenient science of human-caused climate change. It’s an all-out assault on Earth, it’s time for scientists to stand up and be counted.” Climate scientist Dr Michael Mann
  • “My hope is that the 16,000 partners really step up and stand firm and say it’s penny-wise and pound-foolish, to put it as politely as possible, to take money from [the Energy Star] program or to try to suspend it when it’s clearly something that is doing so much good across so many fronts. I can’t imagine honestly that the manufacturers won’t fight very, very hard to keep this program in place.”  President of the Alliance to Save Energy, Kateri Callahan.

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