Donald Trump's climate rollbacks can't hold back global green economy

Trump has handed the fossil fuel industry another gift by rolling back coal regulations. Despite such actions, experts say the global green economy will continue to grow.

US President Donald Trump has yet again dealt a blow to the environment.

Nature and Environment | 21.08.2018

This time, he's replaced strict Obama-era coal regulations with his Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE), which would allow states rather than the federal government greater control over regulating coal power plants.

The US Environmental Protection Agency said the proposal would fulfill Trump's goal of "energy dominance" by creating new jobs and boosting the US economy to the tune of $400 million (€345 million) annually.

But the EPA also admits the plan could lead to 1,400 additional premature deaths per year by 2030 as a result of air pollution. And that doesn't include the climate-changing effects of more emissions.

Nature and Environment | 08.08.2018

Trump's most recent environmental rollback follows a string of actions to gut environmental protections, including his June 2017 pullout from the Paris climate accord last year removal of "climate change" and "global warming" from government websites.

But despite such efforts, experts say the global market continues to take a greener turn with the expansion of clean energy and socially and environmentally responsible investment.

Read moreTrump's lasting damage to the environment

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Clean energy goes mainstream

Farzana Hoque, a research and communications consultant with the US Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (US SIF), told DW that the trend is becoming noticeable in the US despite Trump's pledge to end the "war on coal."

"Investments addressing climate change factors have increased more than five-fold between 2014 and 2016, to $1.42 trillion in the United States," she told DW.

Solar and wind industries employ nearly 10 times more people than coal mining companies in the US.

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Since US SIF started tracking fossil fuel divestment in 2014 when it became a noticeable trend, it found that "investors had expanded their divestment policies or adopted fossil fuel restrictions" to a large extent. The assets restricting fossil fuel investments increased nearly tenfold.

In January 2018, New York City said it would divest its multi-billion US dollar public pension fund from fossil fuels over the next five years. It's a notable recent notch in the ongoing wave of global fossil fuel divestment.

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Environmentally responsible investment

In June 2018, US-based Goldman Sachs Asset Management launched a so-called JUST equity fund that invests in US companies that prioritize fair pay for workers, charitable donations and companies that produce low greenhouse gas emissions, among other environmental, social and governance (ESG) measures.

The JUST fund ended its first day in trading with more than $250 million in assets, becoming the most successful launch of its kind in history. Its success has added to investor confidence.

"Many investors see the moral and business case for investing in clean energy. Although the Trump administration has been rolling back environmental regulations, businesses and other entities have committed to reducing carbon emissions," Hoque said.

Read MoreInvestors outperform nations at Paris climate summit

Other companies and entities across the world are also ramping up the importance of environmental and social factors in their portfolios.

Europe's largest bank, HSBC, has prohibited the financing of new coal power plants in several countries, and has also reduced funding for new offshore oil and gas projects in the Arctic.

Japan announced last year that it would triple environmental, social and governance factors in its Government Pension Investment Fund, allocating its share of equity from 3 to 10 percent. Japan has the world's largest such fund, equaling around $1.3 trillion.

Solarpark Japan

Japan is among countries shifting toward renewables to power their economies

Critics point out that investing in a green economy retains challenges.

Colin Vance, deputy director of the environment and resources section of the Leibniz Institute for Economic Research in Germany, told DW that investing in green energy is not always cost-effective.

He pointed out that since 2000, Germany has spent nearly €100 billion on reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, yet will not even attain its self-imposed goal of reducing emissions 40 percent by 2020.

EU lends tailwind to clean economy

The European Union recently upped it own commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent by 2030. It also aims to produce 27 percent of its energy from renewable sources by that same deadline.

There has also been notable progress with the EU emissions trading system. Although carbon markets have been trumpeted as an effective tool for reducing emissions, the EU's carbon trading system had been dogged by too-low market prices for carbon allowances. Regulatory reform slated to take effect at the start of 2019 have driven these prices up.

According to a recent report by Carbon Tracker, the price of carbon in the EU could rise to around €25 by the end of 2018. By the end of 2023, prices could even exceed €35.

The markup is expected to change how Germany and other EU countries consume energy, making it more economically feasible to switch from coal to cleaner forms of energy in the face of climate change.

"Europe is moving toward getting the price right through taxes and measures that reflect true costs," Vance concluded. 

Nature and Environment

10. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The largest city in Saudi Arabia is also the most polluted, mainly due to its industrial activity. Looking at 13,000 cities, researchers found that highly populated centers contributed a major part of countries' total emissions. Large urban areas use up more than 70 percent of the world's total energy — meaning metropolises hold the power to change the global climate situation.

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9. Greater Tokyo Area, Japan

Only about 2 percent of new cars sold in Japan's capital are environmentally friendly. The Tokyo-Yokohama urban area, with the world's largest urban population, emits a massive amount of CO2 every year — 62 million tons for Tokyo alone. But the recent adoption of the Tokyo Declaration gives some hope: 22 global megacities have committed to tackling air pollution and promote zero-emission vehicles.

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8. Chicago, United States

It's the third-most-populous city in the US, and it also has the third-largest carbon footprint. Pollution in the Chicago metropolitan area increased significantly between 2014 and 2016, according to a study by the American Lung Association. Chicago has also been ranked as the third-dirtiest US city. Any guess as to the other two?

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7. Singapore

The many industries in this city-state are behind most of its CO2 emissions; the manufacturing sector will account for 60 percent of its emissions by 2020. But the government has realized it's time to act, and declared 2018 the year of climate action. It has also announced a carbon tax on highly polluting facilities. Singapore is also a main importer of sand — a scarce natural resource.

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6. Shanghai, China

It isn't surprising to find Shanghai in this ranking, as it's among the world's most populated cities. Congestion there has led to serious environmental problems, including air and water pollution. As in many other Chinese cities, power plants and nonstop traffic are the main causes for its carbon emissions. That's why it isn't uncommon to see people wearing masks as they move through the city.

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5. Los Angeles, United States

Not everything in LA is like in the movies. The city's air quality has been ranked as the worst in the US. But California has set ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030, using clean energy and supporting electric or hybrid cars. California Governor Jerry Brown has taken a leading role in the fight against climate change, opposing the Trump administration.

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4. Hong Kong, China

The autonomous territory in southeastern China is densely populated; thousands of vehicles clog its roads, and coal-fired power plants and polluting industries spew smog into the air. In addition, its cargo shipping sector is responsible for up to 50 percent of the city's carbon emissions, according to its Environmental Protection Department.

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3. New York, United States

The most populous city in the US takes the bronze medal for carbon footprint. In January, the iconic metropolis sued the world's five largest oil companies — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell — for their contribution to climate change and its effects on the city. The city has been intensively working to reduce its emissions, but still has a lot of work to do.

Nature and Environment

2. Guangzhou, China

In China's third-most populous city, factories and vehicles are continuously emitting harmful emissions. Smog is an everyday occurrence. But Guangzhou has committed to replacing its entire fleet of fossil-fuel powered buses and taxis with pure electric vehicles by 2020, after major campaigns by environmental groups such as Greenpeace.

Nature and Environment

1. Seoul, South Korea

Seoul is the world's top city when it comes to carbon footprint. Air pollution is its biggest environmental and health concern: More than 30,000 tons of harmful pollutants are emitted from just 10 old coal-fired power plants, accounting for around 20 percent of South Korea's total pollution. In recent years, the city has suspended plant operations in an effort to tackle the problem.