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Environment

US Paris accord exit moves China to center of climate change fight

Top Asian economy widens lead in share of global renewable capacity

Wind turbines sit atop mountains in China's Jiangxi Province. The country's capacity for wind power has increased 22-fold in the decade through 2018.   © Reuters

BRUSSELS -- Efforts by China, the European Union and Japan to cut carbon emissions are taking on greater significance as an international coalition of the willing starts to emerge to fight climate change without the U.S.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday his government had begun the process to leave the Paris climate agreement. The move came as little surprise from a president who has championed America's coal and oil industries and is seeking re-election.

In Beijing, meanwhile, renewable energy is one of the top priorities under the "Made in China 2025" national strategy for increasing self-reliance in high-tech sectors.

China's capacity for wind power has increased 22-fold and for solar power by a factor of almost 700 in the decade through 2018, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Including hydropower, the East Asian country now accounts for 30% of the world's total renewable capacity, taking a significant lead over second-ranked America's 10%.

The Paris accord -- the first agreement to bring all countries into the effort against climate change -- was signed in December of 2015 and took effect the following November. The achievement was largely due to backing from then-U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping -- leaders of the world's two largest sources of greenhouse gases.

Then-U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting at the start of the climate summit in Paris on Nov. 30, 2015.   © Reuters

Members of the Paris accord are preparing to renew their commitment to the pact at the COP25 United Nations climate conference next month.

But some countries, notably Brazil, are not fully on board with climate policies. China and India joined the Paris framework under the assumption that advanced economies would work harder to curb emissions. The U.S. exit could embolden others to defect as well.

Meanwhile, Japan risks falling behind. "It probably will be impossible to change President Trump's mind even if we try," Japanese Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi told reporters on Tuesday, while signalling a desire to continue to work with Washington.

Japan aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26% in fiscal 2030 from fiscal 2013 levels. But the goal looks unlikely to be reached amid delays in restarting its nuclear reactors and increasing renewable capacity.

The EU is weighing a proposal for a "carbon border tax" on nations that are not doing enough to combat climate change. The tariff would likely apply to carbon-intensive products like steel and petrochemicals, shipped from countries like the U.S. and Brazil.

The bloc is working to set a common goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But the Confederation of European Business, a corporate lobby, says care must be taken to ensure European companies maintain their global competitiveness. The EU wants to dissuade companies from moving to the U.S. after it exits the climate deal.

Under Trump, the U.S. exit will be completed be completed on Nov. 4, 2020, the day after the next U.S. presidential election.

Many believe Trump's decision will ultimately have little effect on the ground in the U.S., where growing awareness among consumers is pushing companies to take action.

For example, Amazon.com in September pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2040, and is buying 100,000 electric trucks toward that goal. Apple and Walmart have joined RE100, a coalition of businesses committed to sourcing 100% renewable energy.

Some states like California are doubling down on environmental protections. Pension funds and other big investors are also paying more attention to environmental, social and governance factors when building their portfolios.

Meanwhile, America's growing use of renewable energy and shale gas, which emits less carbon dioxide than oil or coal when burned, has pushed down the country's emissions. CO2 emissions are expected to decrease in 2019 and 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency.

U.S. states, cities and companies are acting in accordance with the Paris agreement, said Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the Washington think tank World Resources Institute.

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