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How Trump and Taormina Could Have Advanced U.S. Energy Security

Ella Kokotsis, Director of Accountability for the G7 and G20 Research Groups
June 8, 2017

Under Italy's presidency, G7 leaders met in Taormina, Sicily, to exchange views on several persuasive global initiatives, including migration, terrorism and energy security. As they gathered, observers wondered whether U.S. president Donald Trump would view the transition to clean energy as a driver of U.S. jobs and economic growth, or whether he would push to renegotiate those critical elements of the Paris Agreement aimed at decarbonizing the energy sector.

The hope was that G7 leaders would persuade Trump that the key to an effective energy transition in the United States is to develop market-based, clean, innovative energy technologies that wed economic growth to environmental protection. The U.S. president would need to understand that continued investment in the energy sector and infrastructure, particularly in low-carbon technologies, not only remains critically important for ensuring future energy security in the United States, but is also key to mitigating risks to the global economy. Trump thus needed to be persuaded by his summit colleagues that these are not mutually exclusive outcomes, and could be achieved simultaneously through energy security policies that promote job creation, economic growth and environmental protection.

Ensuring open, transparent and secure global markets for energy resources and technologies has long been a top priority for the G7. A continued commitment to a diverse energy mix and supply sources are core elements of energy security as well as key factors in the overall resilience of global energy systems. The United States is no exception. And this is one area where Trump would strongly benefit from the type of dialogue and mutual cooperation offered by meeting his summit colleagues face to face for the first time. As Trump's summit partners pushed for enhanced energy security measures in Taormina, the United States could have been compelled to move in a more balanced direction so U.S. jobs and growth would not be compromised, rather would be enhanced by well-adjusted and sensible global energy security initiatives.

Although divisions ran deep between Trump and his G7 partners on climate change, energy security could have been the issue that bound them all together in Taormina. In the lead-up to the release of the final communiqué, speculation ran high about just how far Trump would be persuaded to shift his previously held position on climate change and energy security — if at all. And with Trump's daughter Ivanka aiming to use her spotlight as first daughter to influence climate change in a positive way, there was room for optimism that climate change and energy security may not end up being completely sidelined in Taormina, as many previously expected. The outcome, however, fell drastically short, as references to energy security remained vague and void of any firm targets, timetables or commitments to monetary disbursements. More disappointing yet was the text on climate change, which — for the first time ever in a G7 communiqué — directly pitted one member against its G7 partners, as all G7 members except the United States stood their ground in "swiftly implementing the Paris Agreement."

And in true Trump fashion, the president demonstrated to the world a week after Taormina that his stubbornness and obstinance won over balanced decision-making capability on June 1 when he announced in the Rose Garden of the White House that the United States would withdraw from the international climate accord. International response to Trump's decision was swift and decisive, as leaders around the world were quick to condemn his decision while reaffirming their own commitment to the accord. Domestic response was equally stalwart, as leading American politicians, mayors and business tycoons argued that Trump's decision was reckless and would cost — not create — American jobs.

Energy security and climate change require a global approach; the United States cannot remain an energy leader if it is absent from the negotiating table. This remains a lesson that has yet to be learned and understood by Donald Trump.

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Ella KokotsisElla Kokotsis is the Director of Accountability for the G7 and G8 Research Group and the G20 Research Group at the Munk School of Global Affairs at Trinity College in the University of Toronto. An expert on summit accountability and compliance, she has consulted with the Canadian government's National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations on their African development agenda, with the Russian government on global health issues in the lead-up to the 2006 St. Petersburg Summit, and with the Government of Canada on numerous summit-related issues during the 2010 Canadian G8 and G20 Summits. Her scholarly methodology for assessing compliance continues as the basis for the annual accountability reports produced by the G8 and G20 Research Groups. She is author of Keeping International Commitments: Compliance, Credibility and the G7 Summits and co-author of The Global Governance of Climate Change: G7, G20 and UN Leadership (Ashgate, 2015), as well as many articles and chapters. She leads the group's work on climate change, energy and accountability.

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