US to lose ‘green jobs’ to China, Canada and Europe, says UN environment chief

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2017, 5:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2017, 5:06am

Canada’s environment minister and the head of the UN environment agency said Monday that the United States stands to lose jobs by pulling out of the Paris climate accord.

UN Environment chief Erik Solheim said China is already very competitive on solar energy and jobs will go elsewhere if the US slows down on transforming to a greener economy. Solheim said at this stage, there are 400,000 solar jobs in the US and 70,000 in coal.

“The biggest losers will be the people of the United States because all the good green jobs will go to Canada or Europe or to China,” Solheim said in a telephone interview.

Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said jobs in industries like solar will only increase while the US will not see new coal jobs because natural gas is less expensive and renewable energy sources are more cost competitive.

“We think this a real opportunity for us. It’s unfortunate for the United States,” McKenna said in a separate interview. “We want to be positioning ourselves for the economy of the future.”

President Donald Trump argues the climate agreement has disadvantaged the US and benefited other countries, leaving American businesses and taxpayers to absorb the costs. Solheim disagreed, saying that “there is no global conspiracy against the United States” and that the US had been one of the main drivers of the Paris accord.

Trump also said he wants to renegotiate the terms of the deal, which McKenna says is impossible.

“The Paris agreement can’t be renegotiated. It’s in force and I certainly don’t think there is any appetite for that,” McKenna said.

Solheim said it will be more costly for America not to act and noted that US Secretary of Defence James Mattis has emphasised the link between climate change and national security.

“To take no action will be extremely costly on the global scale and in the United States itself you’ll see sea levels rise in Florida,” he said. “You may see more droughts in the Plains.”

McKenna said Canada is already seeing the costs of climate change as the federal government spends billions to assist communities with forest fires, droughts and floods.

“So it’s unfortunate if the US is not going to be part of the Paris agreement, but everyone else is going to continue moving forward and with added resolve,” she said.

McKenna said US states and cities can be worked with. She noted cities control about 50 per cent of the emissions and said American cities are stepping up to tackle emissions. She also noted California is the sixth largest economy in the world and is committed to climate action.

“No one government can stop progress and you can’t stop the market. The market has moved. It’s moving toward a low-carbon culture, and now we need to get on with it and Canada needs to take advantage of this change,” she said.

Solheim, McKenna and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went kayaking earlier Monday on the Niagara River to mark World Environment Day.