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Trump's Dramatic Failure in Advancing Climate Change and U.S. Energy Security

Ella Kokotsis, Director of Accountability for the G7 and G20 Research Groups
August 22, 2017

The summer of 2017 has seen back-to-back G7 and G20 summits in Taormina in May and Hamburg in July, where world leaders converged to exchange views on numerous significant global initiatives, including migration, terrorism, international trade, energy security and climate change. As the leaders 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 both G7 and G20 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 that in fact they 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 both G7 and G20 leaders alike. 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 could have significantly benefited 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 both Taormina at the G7 and later at the G20 in Hamburg, the United States could have been compelled to move in a more balanced direction that ensured that U.S. jobs and growth would not be compromised, rather enhanced by well-adjusted and sensible global energy security initiatives.

Although divisions ran deep between Trump and his summit partners on climate change, energy security could have been the issue that bound them all together in Taormina and later in Hamburg. In the lead-up to the release of the Taormina communiqué on May 27, 2017, speculation ran high about just how far Trump could 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: 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 or G8 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 abstinence won over balanced decision-making capability when he announced on June 1 in the Rose Garden of the White House that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord. International response to Trump's decision was swift and decisive. Leaders around the world were quick to condemn his decision while reaffirming their own commitment to the climate agreement. 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.

Trump remained characteristically undeterred when, one month later in Hamburg, Trump participated in his first diplomatic gathering of the world's largest greenhouse gas emitters since his announcement to withdraw from the Paris Accord. He isolated himself entirely from his 19 summit partners when he refused to sign onto the G20 Hamburg Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth. In an unprecedented move, the final G20 declaration noted the U.S. decision to withdraw from the international climate agreement, choosing instead an approach to climate change "that lowers emissions while supporting economic growth and improving energy security needs." Saying that she deplored Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord, German summit host Angela Merkel showed obvious dissatisfaction not only with Trump's obstinance, but also in the G20's inability to reach a climate and energy security consensus.

Serious questions now remain on how climate and energy security can advance in an era where the G7 and G20 are left trying to fill the global governance leadership gap provided in the past by the United States. Undoubtedly, energy security and climate change require a global approach and the United States cannot endure as a global energy leader if it remains absent from the negotiating table. Investment in innovative energy technologies worldwide over the past decade have proven that economic growth and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive. Thus, continued investment in U.S. infrastructure and low-carbon technologies are key to ensuring an effective and enduring energy security policy. But this remains a lesson that Donald Trump has yet to learn and fully understand.

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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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