By Ken Silverstein
July 16, 2017 - When President Trump met with President Emmanuel Macron in France for the Bastille Day celebration, the two discussed the Paris accord and whether there could be a meeting of the minds. While the U.S. president indicated he may be open to reconsidering the climate agreement, the latest indications are that he is taking positions diametrically opposite to not just the French government but also those other 190-plus nations that have pledged to cut their CO2 emissions.
At issue now is the so-called Green Climate Fund established by the United Nations that exist to distribute monies to developing countries to help them fight climate change. The U.S. has given $1 billion of the $3 billion it has pledged, all while President Obama was in office. Trump is reneging on that promise, although he is now saying that he could revisit the issue if monies would be targeted to advanced coal projects — causes that he says would serve to electrify many parts of the world in the fastest and most cost effective manner.
That’s what Bloomberg has reported, pointing out that at the Group of 20 meeting in Hamburg last week, leaders there acknowledged the need to find cleaner ways to burn fossil fuels. To that end, the major coal companies in this country — Peabody Energy, Cloud Peak Energy and Arch Coal — have said that their survival depends on new technologies that increase the efficiencies of coal burning, which thereby make it cleaner.
The Green Climate Fund has about $7 billion in its coffers, which has been provided by 43 national governments, lending institutions and private enterprises. Another $3 billion or so has been promised, although that takes into account President Obama’s earlier pledge. The money will service about 40 projects now on its plate. The eventual goal is to get to $100 billion.
Separately, Breakthrough Energy Ventures has raised $1 billion to fight climate change and to address emissions from electricity, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing and buildings. It’s a 20-year fund the will take the long view and that has a lofty goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by a half-gigaton a year — one financed in part by Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
“If we can effect emissions, the financial returns will follow,” says venture capitalist John Arnold, who is also part of the Breakthrough venture. Ultimately, “The demand for these products is not dependent on a subsidy.”
But what is the most effective way to help the developing countries? After all, the foundation of any economy is the ability to access reliable energy so that goods and services can be produced and then transported. While many under-developed countries have made great strides to electrify their economies, billions of people are still going without power.
To get there, both the United Nations and global lending institutions such as the World Bank are saying that they will place more emphasis on green technologies than on fossil fuels, which will still remain part of its tool box and loan portfolio. The thinking is that the developed world can bypass centralized generation and delivery and go right into decentralized onsite power that runs on renewable energy and is sent by localized microgrids.
But is that a reasonable and fair expectation? Man-made climate change, in reality, is largely a function of Western industrialization. And now those richer countries are asking such nations as China and India to clamp down on their use of coal, which is abundant and inexpensive relative to their other fuel options.
While India also has plans to roll out more solar, wind and hydro-electric energy, it needs financing from the West to do so — and to keep a lid on its CO2 releases after 2030. China, meanwhile, has an aggressive plan to wean itself from coal and to increasingly rely on nuclear power, as well as renewable energies.
Perhaps the goal of bringing electricity to the masses and the cause of reducing the level of heat trapping emissions are inconsistent with one another? With the world economy projected to grow four-fold over the next four decades, the threat of greater CO2 releases is real. That is why the Green Climate Fund should not be viewed as a vehicle to fulfill campaign promises but rather as a vital mechanism to effect change.
Ironically, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says that poorer countries will have twice the level of carbon emissions as those of their more prosperous brethren. That's because the richer countries will have access to modern pollution control equipment while those in the developing nations will rely on cheaper coal-fired power.
"This is not supposed to be a coal slush fund or a natural gas slush fund," Karen Orenstein, a director of economic policy at Friends of the Earth, told Bloomberg, in reference to the climate fund.”This is a fund about sustainable development in the age of climate crisis.”
Circling back to the confab between Presidents Trump and Macron, the former is paying homage to a cleaner coal burn while the latter is promising to usher in a low-carbon future. Unless a middle ground is reached, the Green Climate Fund should discount the United States and any future monies it may contribute.