Saturday, June 10, 2017

Paris Isn’t the Only Clean Energy Pact the U.S. Is Fleeing

The White House’s deep proposed cuts to energy R&D could cede leadership to China, and derail the international Mission Innovation partnership.

Flag Exhaust (Photograph Credit: David McNew | Getty) Click to Enlarge.
Energy ministers from around the world traveled to Beijing this week for a series of meetings on international efforts to accelerate the shift to clean energy, including the Mission Innovation pact aimed at doubling government funding for research and development.

U.S. energy secretary Rick Perry is attending, but the Trump administration has arguably already staged a de facto exit from the initiative, and has certainly signaled it’s opposed to the goals.  The meetings occur just days after President Trump announced plans to withdraw from the landmark Paris climate agreement, and weeks after the White House floated a budget proposal that, far from doubling research funding for the Department of Energy, would slash it by more than $3 billion (see Exiting Paris, Trump Cedes Global Leadership on Climate Change).

For some observers, the location and timing of the meetings only reinforce the growing international perception that China has seized the climate leadership role abandoned by the United States.

"This could be a passing of the torch," says Varun Sivaram, acting director of the program on energy security and climate change at the Council on Foreign Relations, referring to the Energy Ministerial meetings held Tuesday through Thursday at the China National Convention Center. 

Nations pieced together the Mission Innovation pact in 2015, on the sidelines of the Paris climate negotiations, which were focused on emissions reduction goals rather than the technology to get there.  Ultimately, 22 countries plus the European Union would sign onto the deal, which sought to “develop and scale breakthrough technologies … to enable the global community to meet our shared climate goals.”  China pledged to raise its spending by around $3.8 billion, while the United States committed to increase funding by more than $6 billion by 2021.

Instead, President Trump's fiscal 2018 budget plan slashes spending on energy research, and eliminates two teams in the Office of International Affairs that coordinated partnerships on climate and energy, including the Mission Innovation program.

“It would be felt all across the United States in research universities, national laboratories, and other technology centers that depend on government funding,” said Jonathan Elkind, former assistant secretary of the Office of International Affairs, in an e-mail.

Few think the White House will get anywhere near the level of cuts it has proposed, but equally few believe there will be substantial research funding increases, particularly on the order required to meet the goals of the Mission Innovation pact.  The financial commitments were nonbinding, but some fear that if the United States flagrantly abandons its pledges, other participants may too, undermining momentum.

The funding cuts also threaten to undermine the United States’ competiveness on technologies that could prove to be the defining economic force of the decades ahead.  Research suggests Mission Innovation funding increases would pay off in the short term as well, with every dollar of clean energy R&D generating $1.60 in additional economic activity, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts and ICF International.

"There's no question in my mind that any cuts, whether they are large or moderate, will harm U.S. economic growth, reduce American energy security, put the United States at a competitive disadvantage, and undermine the nation's ability to reduce greenhouse gases," says Kelly Sims Gallagher, professor of energy and environmental policy at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

Read more at Paris Isn’t the Only Clean Energy Pact the U.S. Is Fleeing

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