Investor groups react to US plans to become ‘world’s largest energy producer’

Investor groups slam Trump’s climate moves

US investor groups have called on President Donald Trump to ensure a swift transition to a low-carbon economy, as Trump advisor Myron Ebell says the US will clearly change its course on climate policy, withdraw from the Paris Agreement and remain a fossil fuel-based economy.

Ebell, an avowed climate change denier, who led President Donald Trump’s transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was speaking at an event in London yesterday hosted by the climate change think tank Global Warming Policy Foundation, known for its sceptical views on climate science.

While Ebell stressed he was no longer a member of the US administration, and in fact had never met Donald Trump, he said that he had produced an action plan for the EPA reflecting pledges made by Trump during his election campaign.

These include withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, defunding UN climate programmes, repealing rules around greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Power Act and undoing Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

Ebell said it was clear that the US would change course on climate policy and ramp up American oil and gas production. “This is obviously good for the US, and the world,” said Ebell. “By becoming the world’s largest [conventional] energy producer, it will reduce the influence of the Middle East and Russia.”

When pressed by reporters on the Paris Climate Agreement, Ebell said “Trump has made it clear he will withdraw from the Paris Agreement. He could do it by executive order tomorrow.” He added that Trump was keen to stop what he termed “a climate-industrial complex” of special interest groups.

In reaction, US investor groups have said it is vital that the Trump administration stays part of the Paris Climate Agreement and transitions the country to a low-carbon economy.

Speaking to RI, Mindy Lubber, President of sustainability advocacy group Ceres, that represents a number of S&P 500 companies and a network of investors with a collective $15trn in assets, said it was vital that the US stayed in the climate agreement for economic reasons.

“This is as much a financial issue as it is an environmental issue, and the important thing is staying in,” she said. “It is core to our investors and many of the very large businesses we work with. They want us to continue moving forward on climate change, on the Paris agreement, because it is good for the financial bottom line.”

She also said it was vital that the US was able to grow its renewable energy industry to be competitive with China, which has around a $360bn commitment to renewable energy in its current energy plan.

However, reflecting Trump’s past claims that climate change was a hoax invented by China to make US manufacturing non-competitive, during the press briefing, Ebell said he was sceptical about China’s renewables pledges.“They say things and don’t do them,” he said, adding that China was producing more solar panels and windmills to sell to “gullible West customers”, to make electricity prices higher and the Chinese economy more competitive.

Stephanie Pfeifer, CEO of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, a group of 134 pension funds and asset managers stewarding €16trn, also told RI it was vital that the US stayed in the Paris agreement and moved to a low-carbon economy. She said: “Pension fund managers have a fiduciary duty to protect the value of their assets over the long term. In the face of escalating climate risk, institutional investors therefore recognise that strong, stable polices that help secure a swift and smooth transition to a low carbon economy are essential.”

In a statement to RI, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who manages the New York City Pension Funds, with combined assets of around $162bn, said: “Climate change is real. The science is real. And we believe the administration – instead of denying that reality with conspiracy theories – should act like it. This isn’t just about basic common sense, or about recognizing what virtually every scientist in the world has been saying for years. Responding to the reality of climate change now, rather than later, is good for business – and investors like the City’s pension fund – in the long-run.”

Stringer has also been vocally critical of Trump’s recent policy on refugees that has seen travellers temporarily banned from seven Muslim countries, including Syria and Yemen. In a statement reacting to refugees being detained at New York’s JFK airport, Stringer said: “Our character, as a city and as a nation, rests on how we treat those who need our help. Turning away or detaining refugees is inhumane. It’s heartbreaking. And it’s not who we are. It’s just plain wrong.

“Through his executive actions, President Trump is creating chaos. America’s global standing has been undercut by these ill-conceived, illogical, and immoral steps. President Trump’s Executive Order has international ramifications that are playing out right here at home.”

Lubber said just as companies and investors had been vocal in their opposition to the US leaving the Paris Climate Agreement, there had been loud and public statements from large companies such as Starbucks, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs on the refugee ban. “They are making the case that not only is it unfair, but it is economically not viable for organisations that have built their enterprise off the genius and support of people from countries around the world.”

Ebell has now returned to his role at think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute.