Donald Trump completely deserves every bit of the international criticism that he has received for his efforts to undermine the Paris Agreement. The White House-sponsored fossil fuel side event on Monday here in Bonn is just the tip of the quickly melting iceberg. You can add to that Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Agreement, his repudiation of the US Nationally Determined Contribution, and his efforts to dismantle US climate policy. All of that risks undermining the integrity of the Agreement and its core principles of progression and highest ambition.
But all of Trump’s misinformed bluster and inane tweeting aside, it is important to keep in mind what is actually happening to US carbon emissions. Despite Trump’s effort to repeal the Clean Power Plan and the absence of any national carbon reduction strategy, the decarbonisation of the electricity sector is proceeding so quickly that the US’ climate targets under the Paris Agreement remain well within reach. And the truth is, there isn’t a darn thing Trump can do about it.
The US is already at least halfway to meeting its 2025 Paris pledge. The majority of these reductions have come from the electric sector, where the country has been retiring coal-fired power plants and replacing them with clean energy. The US is also reducing electricity demand at an unprecedented pace. Since 2010, existing coal-fired power plants representing 71 gigawatts (GW) have been retired and another 41 GW of coal plants are scheduled to retire no later than 2025. This represents 34% of the coal power plants that operating in 2009.
Ongoing advocacy to replace coal, and increasingly fracked gas, with clean energy can slash US electricity sector carbon pollution by at least another half billion tons by 2025. That would bring the US within striking distance of meeting its Paris pledge.
The US should be roundly condemned for the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the Paris Agreement and to promote fossil fuels as an even remotely realistic solution to the climate crisis. But the grassroots movement to phase out coal will continue to grow and succeed, moving the country toward 100% clean energy, with or without the White House.