Pruitt supports ‘sustainable’ goals connected to climate

Source: Niina Heikkinen, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The United States signed on to indirect international action on climate change at the recent Group of Seven environment ministers meeting, but it rejected explicit actions to address warming.

U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt briefly faced his counterparts in Bologna, Italy, over the weekend, about a week after President Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. While Pruitt reiterated that the United States would immediately stop action to implement the accord, he did join the other environment ministers in a communiqué agreeing to work toward the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 targets, first adopted by countries in 2015, include efforts to clean up the world’s oceans, reduce food waste and make clean energy more affordable.

Climate change is an implicit and explicit issue throughout all the goals, said Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

“Given that the SDGs treat climate change as one of the defining problems of our time, and they treat climate action as an opportunity for sustainable economic development, it does seem somewhat incongruent that the Trump administration was willing to sign on to the communiqué,” Burger said.

Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, speculated that the United States signed the SDGs so as not to be completely left out of the communiqué. He noted that addressing climate change was one of the 17 targets.

“If you don’t deal with climate change, it will overwhelm your ability to deal with agriculture or public health, with water supplies, or conservation, everything is integrated in there,” he said.

“You can’t say, ‘Don’t do anything on climate change,’ and assume that things would be achieved, because they wouldn’t be,” Meyer added.

In the communiqué released by G-7 members, environment ministers and European commissioners agree to “work on integrating the economic, social and environmental dimension of sustainable development, with the aim of leaving no one behind, for the benefit of the people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership, and exchange respective experiences.”

They state that they will all agree to implement the environmental dimension of the 2030 agenda, which includes cleaning up ocean litter, increasing people’s awareness of food waste and using resources efficiently.

The United States also joined the other participants in pledging to make “further significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions,” according to a statement from German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks.

“I was pleased the United States also made this commitment,” she said.

But the United States broke from the United Kingdom, Japan, England, Germany, France, Canada and the European commissioners on their reaffirmation of the Paris Agreement. The United States says in a footnote that it will “continue to engage with key international players in a manner that is consistent with our domestic priorities, preserving both a strong economy and healthy environment.”

U.S. withdrawal sparked ‘unity’

The other nations expressed their disappointment and regret at the United States exit from the Paris accord. In a statement, European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete said the United States triggered a “remarkable show of unity” around the climate accord by quitting Paris.

“Let me be very clear on the point of the irreversibility of the Paris Agreement. The European Union will not renegotiate the Paris Agreement. … With the exception of the U.S., we are all determined to move forward and implement the Paris Agreement swiftly and effectively,” he said.

Cañete met with Pruitt on the sidelines of the G-7 meeting. The pair discussed the topics on the meeting agenda, including the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, according to a spokeswoman, Anna-Kaisa Itkonen.

Pruitt cut short his participation in the two-day meeting, leaving after a few hours of meetings Sunday. In a statement, EPA spokesman Lincoln Ferguson said Pruitt returned early to Washington to attend a full Cabinet meeting yesterday, but senior staff members would remain in Bologna to continue discussions with their international counterparts.

Both the president and Pruitt have said the United States could help reduce global emissions through sharing energy technology for horizontal drilling and clean coal technology.

But those approaches could have limited effectiveness for the rest of the world, said Kevin Book, managing director of research at ClearView Energy Partners LLC.

While natural gas has been a “star player” in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, a similar approach won’t necessarily work elsewhere in the world, particularly in countries not already using a lot of coal, he said.

Other nations do not have the resources to develop the infrastructure for natural gas or buy the technology needed for developing and producing it. Countries interested in developing their own domestic energy sources might not have the right geology for natural gas development. The United States could export natural gas to other nations, but that, too, could face significant infrastructure hurdles, since recipients would need port access to take in the fuel.

“Molecules are easier to move than technology, and even then it takes money to buy our molecules,” Book said.

Encouraging the adoption of cleaner coal technology comes with another set of challenges.

“It’s possible to create lower-cost production for coal by rolling back regulations, but it’s hard to produce more opportunity for coal without a price on carbon,” he added.