Vatican says Trump risks losing climate change leadership

The Vatican has urged US President Donald Trump to listen to “dissenting voices” and reconsider his position on climate change, saying the United States risked losing its environmental protection leadership to China.

A new report from a B.C.-based energy think tank says clean energy is here to stay — no matter what U.S. President Donald Trump does.

Pope Francis has made defence of the environment a key plank of his papacy, strongly backing scientific opinion that global warming is caused mostly by human activity.

“This is a challenge for us,” said Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Pope’s point man for the environmental, immigration and development, when asked on Thursday about Trump’s executive order dismantling Obama-era climate change regulations and his immigration policies.

“Fortunately, in the United States, there are dissenting voices, people who are against Trump’s positions,” said Turkson, who is from Ghana and was one of the driving forces behind the Pope’s 2015 encyclical letter on environmental protection.

“This, for us, is a sign that, little by little, other positions and political voices will emerge and so we hope that Trump himself will reconsider some of his decisions,” Turkson told reporters at a breakfast meeting.

The Pope and the Vatican, which has diplomatic relations with more than 180 countries and a permanent observer status at the United Nations, have strongly backed the international Paris Agreement in 2015 to curb world temperatures.

“We as a Church, are full of hope that [Trump’s positions] will change,” Turkson said, adding that he hoped “the President realises that there sometimes can be dissonance between reality and things said during a campaign”.

After Trump signed his executive order on Tuesday, keeping a campaign promise to bolster the US coal industry, nations led by China and the European Union rallied to support the Paris accord, which Trump has threatened to abandon.

China, which had fought attempts by foreign governments to limit carbon emissions in the past, has become a strong proponent of efforts to halt global warming.

“While Trump is moving in the opposite direction, there is another great power in the world, China, which is showing different signs, as if America is creating a vacuum that China is filling,” Turkson said.

He said the Vatican hoped that positions by China, which is investing heavily in the export of clean energy products such as solar panels and wind turbines, “would provoke a reconsideration of the positions of some countries, in this case the United States”.

The Vatican was also “very worried” that the US budget, released on March 16, increased military spending at the expense of environmental protection, diplomacy and foreign aid, he added.

Merran Smith, the executive director of Clean Energy Canada at Simon Fraser University, says ultimately — it won’t make a difference.

“Donald Trump is not going to be able to fight back some of the basic facts about renewable energy,” she said.

Smith said renewable, clean energy sources like solar and wind are increasingly cost-competitive.

Secondly, she said, the clean energy sector is a major employer.

According to a U.S. Department of Energy study, the number of jobs in the U.S. wind power industry rose by 32 per cent last year while solar power jobs rose by 25 per cent.

“Some of the biggest employers of solar and wind technicians are in Republican states — places like Oklahoma, Iowa, Texas. These are jobs for rural people. They’re electricians, they’re welders, pipe fitters. These are Trump supporters that are being employed,” Smith said.

“It’s going to be challenging [to] bring coal jobs back.”

Many environmental groups — like the Pembina Institue and the Sierra Club — have said the same thing.

Smith’s report says the clean energy movement has reached a tipping point.

It says some of the world’s biggest polluters — China, India and the United States — are investing more heavily in clean energy technology rather than in fossil fuels.

Smith believes it’s a good opportunity for Canada to get involved.

“There are big opportunities for Canada because we actually have a clean electrical grid [here]. Over 85 per cent of our electricity is non-emitting, non carbon polluting emitting, so we have a lot of expertise here,” she said.

The industry, according to Smith, is practically unstoppable.

“With this growing energy demand, even Donald Trump can’t kill this demand and the transition that’s happening.”