Interview on Newsdrive, BBC Radio Scotland, 8 December 2016
Bill Whiteford: Now there’s been fierce criticism of Donald Trump’s decision to choose a climate change sceptic to head the US Environmental Protection Agency. Scott Pruitt is the Attorney General of the oil rich state of Oklahoma and is seen as a close ally of the fossil fuel industry. Joining us now is Dr Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Forum, itself a sceptical organisation… So what do you make of this [decision], do you think it marks a big change in policy, not just in the States but throughout the world?
Benny Peiser: Yes it does, it signals clearly that Donald Trump will radically change direction on both climate and energy policy, which will have huge ramifications both for the US and also internationally, because the European countries will think very hard before they decide to go it alone yet again. Any country that tries to go it alone will suffer detrimental economic consequences because America has a huge advantage now, it is an energy superpower. Cheap oil and cheap gas is making America more competitive and countries that go for more expensive forms of energy will become less competitive.
BW: Are we not due, as a country (the United Kingdom), to ratify the Paris treaty soon?
BP: Yes, but the Paris Agreement is not legally binding so it doesn’t actually mean very much to any countries. It was produced in such a way that it doesn’t have to go through the US Senate – so it doesn’t have any legally binding targets. So countries can do what they want, apart from the few, like Britain, that have legally binding targets. Britain will suffer its own consequences because it has no flexibility on these issues, but other countries such as India and China will now do business as usual.
BW: Scott Pruitt may be the head of the EPA, after his nomination gets through the Senate, but the EPA itself is a huge organisation, all of which is predicated on climate change – how can he change that?
BP: He doesn’t have to change very much on the science issue; the policies will change. First of all, because of the realisation that America is sitting on a huge gold mine in the form of cheap oil and gas, any country that has huge shale reserves will exploit them, they will produce huge amounts of cheap energy, which will make alternative forms of energy like wind and solar even more expensive than they are. So America will have a huge competitive advantage as a result, and I think the Trump administration will go full speed to exploit these cheap resources.
BW: What does this mean for renewables in places like Britain?
BP: Britain, if it continues on its current path, will become less and less competitive. We already have higher production costs; energy in the US is a third of the cost than in Britain. Any country that is becoming too expensive in terms of energy will suffer and their industries will suffer and will just move to places where it’s cheaper to produce.
BW: But in the States at the moment they are actually exporting their shale gas because they’re producing too much of it – that is why it is coming to Grangemouth in Scotland, for Ineos. If they keep drilling, they’ll make far too much of it and it will be too cheap, and actually their own shale industry will go bust.
BP: That’s why they are so keen on OPEC doing a deal to try and push up the price of oil. Obviously, if there is too much, the prices go down and only the most efficient companies will survive. Many hundreds of shale companies have gone bust because the price has gone down. Nevertheless, the US is sitting on a hundred years worth of cheap oil and gas and I don’t see that this is going to change. Trump is in all likelihood going to accelerate that, and any country that thinks they can go green and ignore cheap energy will suffer economically.
BW: Dr Benny Peiser, from the Global Warming Policy Forum, thanks very much.