France is doubling down on its plans to take coal out of the energy market.
Image via Pixabay.
Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, is pushing forward his country’s pledge to shut down all coal plants within two years. Initially introduced by Macron’s predecessor, Francois Hollande, the plan was aimed at taking coal out of the European nation’s power mix by 2023 — now revised to 2021.
As only one percent of the country’s energy is produced from coal, the new administration’s announcement is seen as largely symbolic. Still, the message it sends is clear: with an increasingly environmentally hostile US, France wants to take the lead against climate change.
From little to none
“We’ve also decided to make France a model in the fight against climate change”, Mr Macron said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“We should stop opposing on one side productivity, on the other side climate change issues,” he added, saying the commitment brings France “a huge advantage in terms of attractiveness and competitiveness”.
Many other nations are also taking steps to phase out coal. China, currently the world’s biggest greenhouse emitter, canceled work on 104 coal plant construction sites last year alone, and a body of national governments have joined in a common pledge to completely eliminate the fossil fuel from their energy mix by 2030. The EU as a whole also has doubled down on its efforts to get rid of coal.
There’s also solid economic reasoning behind this drive. The prices of renewable energy have been steadily dropping these past few years and, for many communities, coal is just not cost-effective anymore. That’s especially true for wealthier nations, which could afford to subsidize parts of the cost associated with renewable energy. And, as technologies improve and efficiency rises, renewable energy will become more affordable than fossil fuels across the board.
So, whichever way you look at it, going green makes perfect sense.
While France stands poised to lead the way there, addressing climate change will take more than the actions of a single nation or continent. In this regard, the US sticks out like a sore thumb. As Mr Macron drives France ever farther from coal, the Trump administration is committed to going in the opposite direction, making the revival of the coal industry a central campaign promise. Since taking office, he has reversed a series of landmark environmental policies set out by his predecessor Barack Obama and pulled the US out of the Paris Climate agreement.
In regards to climate action, the US is more isolated than ever before. As if to answer France’s symbolic pledge in kind, President Trump had to cancel his attendance at the summit in Switzerland following a government shutdown.
Macron’s Make Our Planet Great Again call seems to set France firmly on the path to becoming a green science heavyweight.
Image credits US Embassy France.
World leaders were generally pretty cross with President Trumps’ call to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement. In particular, French president Emmanuel Macron responded to the decision with what at the time looked like a case of tongue-in-cheek trolling: by turning Mr. Trump’s campaign slogan on its head, calling for people from all around the world to “make our planet great again.”
In the meantime, it became apparent that Macron was willing to put his money where his mouth is. Working in tandem with Business France, a governmental agency tasked with promoting French businesses overseas, Macron’s administration put together a Make Our Planet Great Again website stating that “France has always led fights for human rights” and is “determined to lead (and win!) this battle on climate change.” Since then, the movement has gained a lot of traction, as well as the attention and support of people such as Arnold Schwarzenegger.
If you want to throw your hat in with the proverbial lot and contribute to that goal, there’s a link which will take you to a short survey. By the looks of it, it seems France is interested in recruiting entrepreneurs, teachers, researchers, students, NGOs, even “other”s into their fold. And researchers, in particular, are getting a lot of love.
Grants for grabs
Choose the researcher option and you’ll wind your way to a page with details on the research program and how to apply if you’re currently in the US. France is especially interested in anyone with a background in climate change, earth sciences, and energy traditions — the website defines this last one as including “renewable energies, innovative zero-carbon energy sources, energy storage, smart energy-management systems, hydrogen vector, carbon storage, electrification of vehicles, as well as human and social sciences to understand, accompany, or open options for energy transition.”
You’ll be prompted to upload a short research plan and a summary of your academic record. And then, a button graces your view. Etched upon its digital surface lie those few words that keep researchers up all night, every night: “How do I finance my project?”
The section lists the grants made available for the program, and I’m happy to say they’re quite sizable. Each grant runs for four years and will amount to between one million Euros for a junior researcher, to one and a half million for senior researchers. The lower sum should be enough to cover salary, two grad students, and research expenses, while the senior grant also allows for two full-time research staff.
With France’s grants up for grabs and the Trump administration’s efforts to cut down on climate research and spending, it’s no surprise that many researchers are interested in Macron’s program.
“Applications continue to come in every hour,” Dr Anne Peyroche, chief research officer of national research agency CNRS, told Nature.
The total grants to be awarded would sum up close to 55 million Euros. The 50 scientists selected to receive the grant money will be announced towards the end of this year.
After Trump’s announcement that he will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the world’s reaction was swift and scathing. With responses filled with disappointment, anger, or flat out mockery, world leaders have made a common front to defend the planet — regardless of Trump’s reckless decision.
The Paris Agreement is basically a last-ditch attempt for the entire planet to come together politically and economically and work together to limit the devastating effects of climate change. It’s not perfect and it’s almost certainly not ambitious enough, but as you’d imagine, it’s never easy to get almost 200 world leaders to agree on something, especially something as complex as global warming. Besides, the idea was only to provide a policy starting point, with the market and other mechanisms doing the rest of the work. If we don’t take action together, globally, everyone will suffer — but Trump said “Screw it,” regardless of the consequences. Well, the entire world (aside from maybe Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who seems pretty happy) said “screw you” right back.
The German press was direct, as it usually is. But some took it further than others.
Not much more to say. The entire German Press criticized Trump, but this Berlin outlet was extremely direct. Image via Twitter.
China, the world’s largest polluter but also the world’s largest renewable energy producer, has expressed extreme disappointment at the fact. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, currently in Berlin discussing with European leaders, stated:
“Fighting climate change is a global consensus, not invented by China,” said Li, referencing a tweet by Trump in 2012, which claimed that China had “invented” global warming to “make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
Still, in a rare instance when the voices of China and Europe leaders perfectly coincide, he reiterated China’s support for the pact and said that with or without the US, China will continue efforts to reduce its own carbon footprint.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated this idea, saying that it will be a challenge for the other countries to assume the leadership formerly held by the US. Merkel called Trump’s withdrawal “highly regrettable, to put it very mildly,” but she too added that this doesn’t change anything for the other countries: “this decision cannot and will not stop those of us who feel obligated to protect our Earth.” Not only did European and Chinese leaders speak together, but the European Union also issued a joint statement with the African Union, in similar terms.
Elsewhere in the world, Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, said that he was “deeply disappointed” by the US decision.
“We are proud that Canada stands united with all the other parties that support the Agreement,” he added.
France: Make the Planet Great Again
But perhaps the most striking response came from France, where the newly elected president Emmanuel Macron rashly criticized Trump’s divisive and isolationist policies. Referring to his “Make America great again” motto, Macron had a different take on things.
Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement is a mistake both for the US, and our planet, Macron said in a touching speech. He went even further, raising an invitation to “all scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, responsible citizens who were disappointed by the decision of the United States,” saying: “I want to say that they will find in France a second homeland.” Previously, unnamed White House aides were quoted as saying that Macron’s words “irritate” Trump.
Bad for America, bad for the planet
Trump’s main motivation (at least the motivation he quoted) was that the deal is bad for the US, and doesn’t make much of a difference globally. Well, as the authors of the study he quoted themselves said, he misunderstood and misquoted the study. In fact, scientists have been even more vocal in their critique of Trump. Speaking to Scientific American, Jane Lubchenco, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University and former administration of the NOAA, said:
“Where to start? President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement shows a blatant disregard for the wishes of most Americans and business leaders, an irresponsible and callous dismissal of the health, safety, and economic well-being of Americans, a moral emptiness in ignoring impacts to the poorest people in the US and around the world, and gross ignorance about overwhelming scientific evidence. Far from “protecting America” as the president stated, withdrawing from Paris will make America more vulnerable and diminish its world leadership. It is terrifying that the individual who should be leading the rest of the world is so arrogant and irresponsible.”
Thomas Stocker, former co-chair of the IPCC and an environmental physicist at the University of Bern, Switzerland, echoed Macron — saying that this is bad for the US, and the planet.
“Trump’s decision to ignore scientific facts of climate disruption and the high risks of climate-change impacts is irresponsible not only towards his own people but to all people and life on this planet. The US administration prefers old technology over innovation and transformation. It is rejecting the enormous benefits and returns that leadership in the next industrial revolution — decarbonization — has to offer.”
These aren’t isolated statements — they represent a greater sentiment existing across all scientists, be they US and international. As for the US population — 70% of all Americans wanted to remain in the Paris Agreement. So if scientists hated it, world leaders hated it, and the people hated it, who does this make happy? Well, the US senators who pushed for an exit from the Paris Agreement are heavily on the payroll of fossil fuel companies — and they’re probably really happy right now.
This sets the stage for a clinched, uncertain future: on one hand, there’s international relations, environmental policies, scientists, and the population; on the other hand, there’s a bunch of US politicians and the fossil fuel companies. For now, in the US, the latter won the battle.
It basically boils down to this: Trump is the only one not willing to accept global warming as a reality, and not willing to take the necessary action to protect the planet.
Diplomacy is a game, and Trump is not really winning anything. Image credits: Blue Diamond.
Making the entire planet cringe
Diplomacy is a strange thing. There’s usually a lot of disagreement, and compromises are usually the way to go. But when it comes to sticking to the Paris Agreement, all the members of G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States) wanted the same thing — all but one. Everybody wanted to take action except Trump.
Things must have gotten pretty intense because the other six countries issued a separate statement. It might not seem like much, but by diplomacy standards, this is pretty much the strongest thing you can do without going into a direct confrontation.
“The United States of America is in the process of reviewing its policies on climate change and on the Paris Agreement and thus is not in a position to join the consensus on these topics,” the communique read.
“Understanding this process, the heads of state and of government of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom and the presidents of the European Council and of the European Commission reaffirm their strong commitment to swiftly implement the Paris Agreement,” it added.
The allies of the US were firm on their positions, and individually they gave even stronger statements. The newly-elected French president Emmanuel Macron more or less openly challenged Trump’s views, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was unusually vocal expressing her dissatisfaction, and even British Prime Minister Theresa May distanced herself.
“The entire discussion about climate was very difficult, if not to say very dissatisfying,” Merkel said. “There are no indications whether the United States will stay in the Paris Agreement or not.”
Each of the other G7 took turns explaining to Trump why the Paris Agreement exists and why it’s so vital to follow it, but he appeared unconvinced. Trump, who has previously said that global warming is a hoax set up by the Chinese, said he needs some time to reflect before he makes a permanent decision on the issue. It’s not clear what that means, as you’d expect a president of the US would already have a formed opinion on such important issue, but the other world leaders didn’t pressure him into taking an official stance. Still, it was evidently clear that this is not something on which anyone is willing to budge.
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni made this abundantly clear in his statement:
“[We] won’t change our position on climate change one millimeter. The U.S. hasn’t decided yet. I hope they decide in the right way.”
Trump’s honeymoon period is long over, and the cold hard reality starts hitting strong. Image credits: Gage Skidmore.
To say that the G7 meeting is a disaster would probably be an overstatement. But to say it went alright would be blatantly wrong. Even looking back and trying to find the positive aspects is difficult — the best thing is that at least Trump attended it, which was questionable at some point.
“There were fears: would he attend the G7?” one senior EU official said, noting that Trump’s election had called into question “the entire Western architecture, post Second World War. Now he’s here,” the official said. “He engages.”
Trump called it a “tremendously productive meeting” that concluded “a truly historic week,” but he seemed to be the only one sharing this opinion. Angela Merkel said discussions were “intense,” “difficult,” and marred by “dissent.”
“Here we have the situation that six members, or even seven if you want to add the EU, stand against one,” she said.
At most, the G7 meeting ended with a fragile and awkward truce, disrupting what used to be a generally consensual group. Now, there’s a big fault line isolating Trump (and implicitly, the US) and threatening the very existence of this group. Still, G7 members have said that the organization will continue, with or without the US.
It’s perhaps highly symbolic that everyone took a stroll, while Trump followed in a golf cart. It could be just fatigue due to his old age and the stress of the first external visit as president. But then again, it’s like a metaphor for the meeting itself: everyone talking and agreeing, with the US isolated by its own decision.
Emmanuel Macron, one of the frontrunners of the French presidential candidates, has stated that scientists who feel shut down by the Trump administration are welcome to come to France.
Macron when he was economy minister. Image via Le Web.
Although it just barely got into the position of power, the Trump administration has already chopped and diced significant science departments — especially climate science. Trump’s fondness of fossil fuels and disdain of climate scientists should be a secret to no one, but few anticipated the swiftness and voracity of his measures. In just a couple of weeks, Trump has issued a complete media blackout at the Environmental Protection Agency, cut down the “climate change” page from the White House website and the EPA and even waged a Twitter war with National Park employees. As disconcerting as that is, it’s nice to see that in other places of the world, people feel quite differently.
“I want all those who today embody innovation and excellence in the United States to hear what we say: from now on, from next May, you will have a new homeland, France,” he said.
Of course, Macron is just a presidential candidate (and former economy minister), but he represents the voice of a big part of France, and a big part of Europe. Without directly naming Trump, he issued a “solemn call” addressed to all “researchers, academics and companies in the United States fighting obscurantism and who are afraid today”, to join the land of innovation he wants France to be.
I’m not sure why he used quotes for “evil”, but apparently this “evil” also includes scientists. Well, I’m happy that not everyone in the world feels the same way. Now, despite Trump and despite Brexit, we need international scientific more than ever — and this is something that should be kept beyond the realm of politics.