One of President-elect Trump’s core campaign messages was he would no longer allow America to lose to China. No more ceding power and influence. No more handing over the keys to our future. He pounded home this message over, and over, and over again. His preoccupation with China was so incessant it even inspired this epic video.
On a seemingly unrelated note, following his inauguration, President-elect Trump will become the only world leader to deny the existence of human-caused global warming. It has already leaked he is not only seeking to leave the Paris Climate Agreement, but is searching for ways to circumvent the four-year procedure to expedite the exit.
But while his rhetoric on China and climate change might at first glance seem unrelated, Mr. Trump should have fair warning they are intricately connected. Mr. Trump ignores this truth at his (and America’s) peril.
First, imagine a scenario where Mr. Trump moves aggressively to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. What comes next? Does the Paris Climate Agreement fall apart? It’s possible. But in the days since the election, strong signals have mounted that this assumption is a grave misread.
In fact, Jonathan Pershing, the US climate envoy in Morocco, reports he is hearing the same message from his international counterparts: they will move forward without us. Besides China, Pershing says this sentiment has been echoed from Europe, Brazil, Mexico, Canada and more. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has even seriously floated a proposal to slap a carbon tax on all imported U.S. goods if the US backs out of the Paris Climate Agreement. In addition to private conversations with Pershing, Chinese representatives have come out publicly in favor of continued climate action no matter what, stating unequivocally, “Action by the international community will not stop because of the new government of the United States.”
Thus, if the international community steps up its commitment to climate action as a new American administration steps back, what is created? An American sized leadership void, that’s what.
Of all the countries on the planet who do you suppose is best positioned to fill such a void? Who do you suppose has been eagerly awaiting an opportunity to assert themselves on the global stage? Who do you suppose wants to address crippling environmental issues at home while investing in their future as the clean energy super power? Who do you suppose recognizes this for what it is – the great economic, environmental and geopolitical opportunity they’ve been waiting for? That’s right. China.
What’s more, China has already made clear this is exactly how they assess the situation. One of China’s senior climate talks negotiators, Zou Li, told Reuters last week, “Proactively taking action against climate change will improve China’s international image and allow it to occupy the moral high ground.” Zou continued that if Trump abandons the Paris Agreement, “China’s influence and voice are likely to increase in global climate governance, which will then spill over into other areas of global governance and increase China’s global standing, power and leadership.”
Between 2010-2015, Chinese investments in clean and renewable energy were greater than Europe and the United States, combined. In 2017, China plans to launch the largest carbon trading market in the world. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency projects China alone will account for 40% of global renewable energy growth between now and 2021. Make no mistake, regardless of who won on November 8th, China was already moving aggressively to address climate change and position themselves as the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.
They simply weren’t expecting the United States to roll over and hand it to them.
While candidate Trump was free to mold the universe as he pleased, President-elect Trump must face reality. His climate policy and his China rhetoric cannot exist in one universe. For if the President-elect withdraws the United States from our position of climate leadership, he will not only inflict a lasting defeat on our country while diminishing our global standing, he will simultaneously hand China a victory offering more opportunity to empower and enrich themselves at America’s expense than they ever could have imagined. He will cede transformational power and influence to the one country he swore he would not. And then he will hand them the keys to our future.