Macron should be applauded for reaching out to Trump on Paris Agreement

While criticism continues to shape coverage of President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, French President Emmanuel Macron has demonstrated a much more constructive approach. Recognising the value of US involvement in global efforts to meet climate targets, he reached out to President Trump and, in doing so, opened up a potential pathway for the US to reengage.

The decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement was the result of a failure to build a genuine coalition on climate action that recognises the role of all technologies, including low emission coal, to achieve climate objectives. In order to build and maintain a coalition, it’s essential that cleaner fossil fuels are recognised for the role they have to play, alongside renewables. This is clearly of paramount importance to the Trump Administration. The choice is either to continue to criticise and isolate the US Administration or, like Macron, to constructively engage with the world’s second largest emitter of CO2.

Since Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, I’ve been asked “Are you guys happy now” and accused of having “got what you wanted”. In the polarised politics of climate change, you’re viewed as either part of the solution or the problem. And coal is seen as climate problem number one. Yet, like most global challenges, the reality is much more complex and nuanced.

There have been phenomenal advances in renewable energy production over the last two decades, but are we really going to meet the Paris Agreement targets by simply switching off coal-fuelled electricity? And for those saying we must go “beyond coal”, what about closing 70% of global steel production? Or 85% of global cement? Coal has a role that goes beyond providing electricity; it is a material that runs through modern societies and arguing that we can just take that away is unrealistic for many countries.

In fact, 22 countries have included a role for modern coal technologies in their Paris Agreement pledges. These 22 countries, which include China, India, Japan, Pakistan and South Africa, have made it clear that coal is going to be a significant part of their energy mix for the foreseeable future. The US is not alone in recognising that there is an ongoing role for coal — 22 other countries have made this clear in their Paris Agreement plans.

It’s easy to gloss over these facts. 22 countries highlighting the ongoing role for coal in their Paris Agreement plans doesn’t fit neatly into the “end of coal” narrative.

The Paris Agreement is not a turn away from coal. Certainly, like most industries, our future will look very different to our role today. But all independent forecasts show that coal will play a role well into the future and, for many countries, that role will still be very significant. Supporting modern coal technologies ensures that coal can provide affordable and accessible energy while reducing CO2 emissions. It is possible to meet environmental goals without sacrificing jobs and economic development.

President Macron should be applauded for the steps he made this past week to reengage with the US on the Paris Agreement. It would be easy for the Trump-bashing to continue but if we are serious about meeting the Paris Agreement targets, we need all countries at the table…and all low emission technologies in the mix.

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