If you believe in miracles, pray for one when Donald Trump meets Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday, two days before the U.S. President is to make his maiden appearance at a Group of Seven summit, in Sicily.
We will never know exactly what the two men discuss – the Vatican, a marvel of secrecy, doesn't release transcripts of private gab sessions. But we can guess that the Pope will try to turn Mr. Trump into a climate-change believer. The conversion could well take a miracle, for the President has threatened to pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris climate accord and once denounced man-made climate change as a "hoax," concocted by China.
Pope Francis is a street priest who worries as much about the earthly habitat as the heavenly one. Climate change is a regular feature of his quickie sessions with heads of states and government. Two years ago, he published an encyclical on the environment, called Laudato si (Praise be to you), that put him firmly on the side of the vast majority of climate-change scientists who believe human activity is warming the planet at an alarming, and potentially catastrophic, rate. The encyclical said a "very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system" and that greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, are "released mainly as a result of human activity."
Of course, the Pope alone is not going to change the President's mind, because Mr. Trump is always looking for a deal he can brag about at the golf club. But Francis might be able to persuade him to go into the G7 with his mind cracked slightly open. Six of the G7 countries are committed to the Paris accord, which set out voluntary carbon reductions to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, and ideally 1.5 degrees. If the United States – the world's second-biggest polluter and carbon emitter, after China – pulls the plug on the Paris agreement, it's pretty much dead.
How can the G7 leaders, among them Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, convince Mr. Trump to honour the commitment made by his White House predecessor, Barack Obama?
Pleading for the sake of the planet's health might not do it, since Mr. Trump evidently believes the climate-change science is voodoo. But appealing to Mr. Trump's desire for energy security, tech innovation and job creation might do the trick. At a G7 teaser conference in Rome on Monday, John Kirton, director of the University of Toronto's G7 research group, said climate change might have to be "recast as an energy and technology issue" to get U.S. support.
Only a few months ago, the Paris agreement seemed a goner. In January, Myron Ebell, head of Mr. Trump's transition team at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said the White House will "definitely" wave adieu to the Paris deal.
As if to reinforce the point, Mr. Trump appointed Scott Pruitt, a climate-change skeptic, to head the EPA. In March, Mr. Trump's "skinny" budget called for the EPA's budget to be cut by almost a third. He also wants to roll back the Clean Power Plan, which was Mr. Obama's signature effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the coal-fired electricity plants by 32 per cent by 2030 over 2005 levels. Mr. Trump won the coal states and promised to revive the coal industry. Never mind that automation and the switch to cheap and plentiful shale gas will ensure that jobs in the gutted coal mines will never come back.
In Sicily, the G7 leaders could dazzle Mr. Trump with statistics to show that decarbonizing the economy does not mean killing it, the opposite in fact. A recent report by the Environmental Defense Fund said employment in the U.S. renewable-energy sector had reached 760,000, for a compound annual growth rate of almost 6 per cent since 2012. Over the same period, jobs in the fossil-fuel industry fell at a 4.25-per-cent annual rate.
China has figured out that clean energy can buy energy security, by reducing the need for oil and coal imports, and create jobs – cleaning the skies of soot would be a bonus. A decade ago, China leaped into the solar-panel market. By 2011, its production of solar panels had reached 50 per cent of global output. Today, the figure is higher. Ditto wind turbines. By 2015, five of the top 10 turbine makers were Chinese, as was the top name – Goldwind. The traditional wind-turbine powerhouses, Denmark's Vestas and General Electric of the United States, are sliding in the rankings.
Still, convincing Mr. Trump that sticking with the Paris accord would help the economy and the environment will be a hard sell. There is some hope. Funds with a collective $15-trillion (U.S.) in assets have sent letters to the G7 countries urging them to keep their Paris commitments. The White House is a family affair and Mr. Trump's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who are senior presidential advisers and have joined Mr. Trump's swing through the Middle East and Europe, are in favour of sticking with the Paris deal. So is Secretary of State and former Exxon boss Rex Tillerson.
Add Pope Francis to the pro-Paris lobbying team and you've got a lot of weight bearing down on Mr. Trump. If he decides to pull out of the Paris deal after the G7 summit, there will be only one winner – China – which would take the global lead on the clean-energy file. Would the President allow that to happen? If he does, it would make a mockery of his "America First" policy.
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