Having a Republican in the White House does not mean action against climate change must stop, State Department Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing suggested Wednesday. “In my mind there are a few areas that I think [President-elect Donald Trump] might be interested in, certainly as I look back on prior Republican administrations that they have been interested in, one of which has been the question of how do you manage U.S. markets to the greatest potential,” Pershing said during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
The climate envoy, who will be out of a job following Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, noted a recent statistic from the U.S. Department of Labor. “We have 80,000 jobs in the coal sector and 2.5 million jobs in renewables and efficiency. All right, so I’m interested in jobs, which he clearly is, how do I sustain that and how do I grow that market, that’s a pretty interesting question,” he said.
Trump talked a big game regarding jobs throughout his campaign, pledging repeatedly to put coal miners back to work. “If I really think I’m going to have to find new jobs, they’re almost certainly not in coal mines. It’s just not very likely,” Pershing said. “First I’d have to compete with gas, and at the moment, the most recent numbers, we were actually buying more solar than we were buying gas because solar was actually cheaper.”
There are, of course, problems with solar in terms of storage and reliability, Pershing said, but the U.S. is an ideal place to solve such challenges. “I also believe that there is an enormous asset that we have that we have been able to take advantage of over the years that serves us well: we are technology innovators … it’s extraordinary our capacity,” he said. “It’s incredible what we can do.”
That will to innovate can be harnessed for the good of the nation, Pershing said. “How do we translate that into the next step? How do we use those assets in ways that develop the next generation of technologies around which again we could win? To me, again, an exercise in which Republican administrations have been very interested in over time, they doubled the [research and development] budget during the Bush administration,” he noted. “It’s an extraordinary thing. It’s not partisan in that sense. They had Democratic support.”
While Pershing has advice for the incoming administration, he has not yet had the opportunity to share it. Pershing has not met with the Trump administration’s transition team for the State Department and said he has no insight as to what the new president will or will not do regarding addressing climate change.
Trump has not yet announced his selection to lead the State Department, though everyone from former New York City Mayor (and Trump loyalist) Rudy Giuliani to former Gen. David Petraeus to 2012 Republican presidential nominee (and Trump critic) Mitt Romney are said to be in contention.
“I don’t know from them directly what their views or their thinking is. I think we’re all looking at the news of various people talking the president[-elect] and his team. We’ll have to see actually what comes out of those conversations, but I haven’t had any of those discussions,” Pershing said.