The Green Climate Fund was the tool the Paris deal used to paper over those cracks: the developed world would pay to help the developing world make the painful cuts, and adapt to the impacts of climate change already in the mail.Apologize, promise to give it away, accomplish nothing. Surprised?
Trump taking issue with the GCF isn’t an uncommon objection. He is expressing a fear that is shared—spoken or not—by policymakers in every developed nation. No country wants to be on the hook for a blank check issued to the developing world to help install anything with an “eco-” or “clean” prefix. Furthermore, the fund has thus far failed at its only two tasks: raising money and spending it. Even the most optimistic estimates show the GCF to be $40 billion short of its $100 billion annual goal this year, and what cash it has managed to raise from the West, it has struggled to spend in the developing world. There are real causes for concern that the GCF cash that has been doled out hasn’t been spent in a smart manner. Anyone familiar with the foreign aid world could have told tell you that this was all but inevitable.
Domestically, Trump just fulfilled a campaign promise and mollified many in his base who might have been concerned about his steadfast commitment to scuttling ‘globalist’ international treaties. He stuck it to the Left, and simultaneously dismantled the last important piece of Obama’s green legacy. (At this point, President Obama has precious few lasting environmental policy successes to point to from his time in office. That’s an inherent problem with governing by the executive action, as Obama chose to do. Of course, there’s a bright side to that fact for greens: Trump is also unlikely to make a large impact on environmental policy through Congress, so his legacy on that front should have a similarly short shelf life.)There might be a marketing opportunity for China, should the mandarinate seize it. China is the global leader in greenhouse gas emissions because the rest of the world has outsourced the production of consumer durables and the attendant smog to China. Mark J. Perry, looking at the purchasing-power effects of Chinese exports on United States living standards, sees the efflorescence of cheaper durable goods as, contra Mr Trump, a gift from China.
Internationally, Trump has flipped the bird to world. Developing countries will be gnashing their teeth at the thought of America backing out its financial commitments. Don’t be surprised to see a kind of domino effect, with leaders in the developing world jumping ship now that the cash flow promised them through the GCF could be drying up. As for the richer countries, they will see it as something akin to green treason.
China may try to exploit the opening, and talk a big game about joining the EU in taking on a climate leadership role. If this comes to pass, understand that it will be nothing more than posturing. China is far and away the global leader in greenhouse gas emissions, and for all of the EU’s stern tone and finger wagging on climate change, the bloc’s latest data show that its emissions actually increased 0.5 percent in 2015. Contrast that with the United States, which saw emissions drop a whopping 3 percent last year as a result of the continuing (shale-enabled) transition from coal to natural gas.
And that gets us to the heart of the issue. One’s opinion of the new climate course Trump just charted for America will ultimately depend on how much faith one puts in climate diplomacy as the holy grail for addressing climate change. The truth is, climate diplomacy has always been about preening, posturing, and moralizing—about optics above all else. What happened today was also all about optics (intentionally so) and that’s why greens committed to finding “diplomatic” solutions are pulling their hair out today.
But let’s not forget that Paris was a next-to-worthless agreement, and U.S. climate policy is going to look very much the same without it as it would have if Trump had announced a decision to stick to the deal. America’s real climate impacts will be determined by how quickly we can transition to a more energy efficient information economy and, more importantly, by our ability to develop and adopt new technologies (the pairing of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal well drilling being the most important example of the past decade). Paris had nothing to do with any of that.
The billions of dollars Americans have saved from buying low-cost products made in China since 1995, and the US jobs that have been created by the additional spending from those savings is one of the biggest transfers of wealth (or “theft” in Trump-speak) in the history of the United States. Instead of continually criticizing our largest trading partner, maybe we should show a little more appreciation to the country that has probably done more to raise America’s standard of living by providing us low-cost durable goods, clothing, and footwear than any country in the history of the United States.Many of those low-cost goods aren't particularly durable (make sure your power tools and your twist drills are made of good American tool steel, dear reader) and yet there is an opportunity for Chinese exporters to brag on accelerating their green efforts at the same time they're keeping their consumer goods cheap.