Energy ministers from around the world gathered in Beijing this week to report increased spending to help counter climate change. Yet one prominent voice, that of US Energy Secretary Rick Perry, delivered a starkly countervailing message as the Trump administration seeks to roll back spending on clean energy and promotes fossil fuels.
Even as India, France, Norway, Canada, Australia, Japan and others said they were on track to double research budgets, Perry said Trump’s proposed budget “reflects an increasing understanding” that private companies must transform technological breakthroughs into commercial projects.
Still, Perry, who is facing proposed deep cuts in energy research programs back home, emphasised in a private meeting with his counterparts from other nations that early stage scientific work remained a priority.
“We will pursue cost-effective research that leverages the expertise of the private sector,” Perry said Wednesday. The approach outlined by Perry marks a sharp departure from past practice and illustrates a new reality emerging across the global energy landscape, where US innovations have long dominated the spotlight.
Trump last week cast his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord in terms of economic self-interest. He warned American jobs would be transferred overseas if the US remained in the agreement.
Renewable energy is widely seen as a major driver of future global growth and Trump was accused of fudging the figures on the agreement’s economic impact and on its projected effects on reining in rising global temperatures.
The Republican’s announcement drew a quick international rebuke and firm assertions from other nations that they would proceed with the agreement regardless of the US position, a dynamic very much on display at this week’s gathering in Beijing. That’s opened the way for other nations, especially China, to seize the mantle of leadership in tackling climate change.
“For us, it’s not a political issue but a moral and spiritual issue,” Harsh Vardhan, India’s minister of science and technology, told The Associated Press. “We are working for the future of our children.”
One of the organisers of the Beijing event, Christian Zinglersen, head of the 23-nation Clean Energy Ministerial, said the spending reductions proposed by Trump were no reason to panic and reflected a shift under way even before Trump took office.
“It’s a shift not just on the contributions side but also in leading more of the work. That creates the need for others to step up and engage and that’s happening,” Zinglersen said.
The cuts in the US would hit a range of programs, from a 70-percent reduction for renewable and energy efficiency programs to a 50-percent cut for a program that includes research to reduce pollution from coal.
Represented at the three-day meeting in Beijing were representatives of countries that emit 75 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
Among them, India outlined its ambitious goal of having electric vehicles account for all new car sales by 2030. Mexico said it was spending $200 million on clean energy projects and efforts to scale up new technologies so they could be commercially deployed.
Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli outlined a massive effort to update transmission lines, develop cleaner burning coal plants and continue expanding solar and wind power capacity, in which China already ranks number one in the world.
“We will make clean energy a new growth point in the economy,” Zhang declared. “The Chinese economy is in a new normal (of lower growth). We are advancing a master plan of promoting progress.”