When Trump and Putin finally meet, we could well see the emergence of a new axis of resurgence for the fossil fuel industry.
A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said a week last Friday that the Russian leader is keen to meet with US President Trump. That now seems an age ago, since Trump’s U-turn on Syria.
It seemed likely then that the meeting would be soon. But when they do finally meet, as they must, even if they don’t have policy on Syria and the Ukraine in common, there’s something else on which they do share much: a love of coal, gas and oil.
Both Trump and Putin support this industry – and the mining industry in general – and deprecate climate change and the Paris Agreement.
People close to the powerful Russian oil community say that both countries see energy cooperation as one of the few common grounds to move the strained relations forward.
Putin and Trump have much in common on the topic of energy. As InsideClimate has pointed out last year:
Russia is the fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. Yet the plan it submitted under the Paris agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 is one of the weakest of any government and actually permits Russia to increase carbon pollution over time. The Paris Agreement went into effect last November, but Russia is the only major emitter that has not ratified it. Instead, it has laid out a timetable that would delay ratification for almost three years.
Trump’s climate-sceptic appointee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, has not confirmed whether the United States will remain in the global climate change pact.
The meeting looks likely to happen in Finland once it assumes chair of the Arctic Council. This is significant because the Council is a forum for discussing access to the mineral rights of the sea-bed within the circle.
Both leaders want access to the vast reserves of oil and gas known to exist there. Their desire is vigorously opposed by environmentalists. Putin’s government famously imprisoned Greenpeace activists in 2013 for protesting about Russian oil exploration in the Arctic.
Igor Yusufov, Tillerson and Russia
Igor Yusufov, Russian energy minister (2001-2004) who presided over the privatisation of the industry is now, oddly, head of US$3 billion energy investment Fund Energy. This fund does deals in oil and gas projects with the likes of US oil service multinational Halliburton.
Yusufov has issued a statement supporting greater cooperation between the two superpowers. He believes that Russia and the USA will discuss the development of coal production and corresponding technologies. Russia is in possession of the world’s second largest coal reserves.
Yusufov has known Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, formerly head of ExxonMobil, since 2002. He is enthusiastic about Tillerson’s involvement in building bridges between the two countries – and forging links on energy.
Tillerson has been involved in Russian energy projects since January 1998 when he took over ExxonMobil’s operations in Russia and the Caspian Sea region.
ExxonMobil and Gazprom did very well out of Tillerson’s involvement in Russia. Both sides will be hoping this success can be repeated.
In connection with the ongoing suspicions about Mr Trump’s connections to Russia, and the degree of support he received from Mr Putin, John McCain, a senator from Arizona, has said he is “very concerned” about Tillerson’s 2013 acceptance of Russia’s Order of Friendship from Mr Putin.
The man Tillerson will be talking to is foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, whom Yusufov speaks admiringly about and says “also possesses a profound knowledge in energy”.
Trump will be jealous of Russia’s achievements with its coal industry. Contrary to the state of affairs in the US, which he wants to reverse, in the last five years Russian coal production increased by 12.7 per cent. Yusufov attributes this to the benefits of privatisation.
Much of the increase is due to open-cast mining, which has lax environmental controls – another (non)-policy favoured by both Trump and Putin.
The end of the Paris Agreement?
Yusufov says that Russia is concerned about the likely slowdown in global demand for coal due to the Paris Agreement. But its Energy Ministry still forecasts an increase in production to 425 million tons in 2020 and to 480 m tons in 2030.
How does this square with being a signatory of the Paris Agreement? It doesn’t. Russia says one thing and does another. This is its form of Orwellian “doublethink”.
An example is Yusufov’s statement: “We see [the Paris Agreement] as a cornerstone of the future environmentally conscious world. At the same time we clearly understand, that at this stage the Russian economy would not survive without hydrocarbons our companies explore and produce.”
At least Russia is honest about wanting to have its climate cake and eat it.
As with the West’s misplaced faith in carbon capture to achieve this dual end, Putin believes in nanotubes. He mentioned them in Paris prior to the climate change conference. He said that these Russian-made fibres, one billionth of a metre in diameter, will “cut Russian CO2 emissions by 160-180 million tons”.
Russia currently emits 2322 Mt CO2 a year, or 5.4 per cent of global emissions.
In the US last week, Trump signed an order – which would need to be passed by Congress – rolling back former President Barack Obama’s climate change policies, including the Clean Power Plan to slash carbon emissions from power plants.
This would damage the United States’ ability to meet its Paris commitments.
Only the U.S. Congress stands between this emerging alliance and the goals of the Paris Agreement.
The world will be watching this summit more closely than it has watched any summit in the last few years.
David Thorpe is the author of a number of books on energy, buildings and sustainability. See his website here.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr