G20 growth agenda against Trump’s scalpel climate policy

In a panel discussion at MCC, Harvard Professor Robert N. Stavins explained concerns about the new US climate policy. The institute’s director Ottmar Edenhofer pointed out some proposed solutions.

[Translate to EN:] Foto: MCC


According to environmental economist Prof. Robert N. Stavins of Harvard University, the US government under President Donald Trump will probably try to role back most climate policies. However, this is not in all cases feasible, for example in the case of laws and some regulations administrered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). "Administrator Scott Pruitt may make cuts at EPA with a scalpel rather than an axe," Stavins said during a key note at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) this week. "It is non-trivial to change Federal laws and regulations."

The environmental economist held his keynote on "Climate Policy in the Age of Trump" in front of more than 200 listeners from the German Federal ministries, NGOs, the science community and the OECD. According to Stavins, the new US government has three options to hinder progress in international dimensions of climate change policy. Firstly, it can withdraw completely from the Paris Agreement, but only with a delay of four years. Secondly, it could withdraw from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with a one-year delay. However, this would be difficult because it could require approval of the US Senate.

According to Stavins, the third option is most likely: The Trump government remains in the Paris Agreement, but seeks to revise the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDCs), or give limited attention to negotiations. There are likely to be domestic conflicts within the Trump administration.  "There may be a debate between Steve Bannon from the White House staff and Rex Tillerson from the State Department," Stavins said. The latter had supported the Paris Agreement and conditionally supported a U.S. carbon tax in the past. 

Stavins stressed that international climate cooperation remains essential, but that the key action will take place at the national and sub-national levels. In that regard, he sees “somewhat comforting initial signs” of the impact the new US position on the Paris Agreement may have on other major carbon emitters like China, India and Brazil. “China appears happy to take leadership,” Stavins said. Furthermore, the major locus of international cooperation could shift, the environmental economist said, from the UNFCCC to the G20, for example.

In the second keynote MCC Director Prof. Ottmar Edenhofer spoke for a "G20 growth agenda". Revenues from carbon pricing could be used to corporation and income taxes or to invest in sustainable infrastructure. "The G20 should combine climate policy with sustainability goals - and also ensure a just transition towards a low-carbon economy", Edenhofer suggested. "The financial system should be transformed to be an enabler and driver of change. Fossil fuel subsidies should be phased out and carbon priced broadly.” Additional revenues could finance sustainable infrastructure. If revenues were coupled with a progressive income tax reform, a higher degree of social justice could be created.

According to Edenhofer, a price for climate-damaging emissions is necessary because there is an over-supply of fossil fuels: in the ground there are about 15,000 gigatonnes of CO2 in the form of coal, oil and gas. However, if more than 800 gigatonnes are to be extracted and burned, the remaining carbon budget for the two-degree target of the Paris Agreement would be fully used-up within a few decades.

Afterwards, Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), commented on the two keynotes. In the the subsequent panel discussion moderated by Dr. Camilla Bausch from the Ecologic Institute, Burrow stressed that the transition from the use of fossil fuels to other energy sources would also have to be a just transition. She said: “There will be no more jobs on a dead planet. "