This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
The Paris climate agreement faces its first international stress test since President Donald Trump announced in the Rose Garden he will pull the U.S. out from the landmark 2015 deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
In May, when world leaders met for the G7, they were trying to convince and cajole Trump to understand the existential importance of addressing climate change. With his decision to withdraw, Trump has marginalized the U.S. in the G20 meeting this week in Hamburg, Germany. His administration’s “America First” agenda has been disruptive when it comes to the future of climate action; this meeting may signal if other nations will follow, or not follow, his lead.
The overwhelming worldwide reaction to Trump’s announcement to withdraw was a reaffirmation of the signers’ commitment to the Paris deal. But his action made recalcitrant nations, such as Saudi Arabia and Russia, more important both symbolically and practically to the world’s climate ambitions. President Vladimir Putin is poised to take advantage of Russia’s increased leverage. The question is, how?
The two leaders met privately Friday on the sidelines of the G20 summit. In the background, of course, are accusations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, intense scrutiny of the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Putin’s government, and the president’s possible obstruction of the FBI investigation, all of which are expected to affect his behavior at the G20. And yet, Trump and Putin share a common priority: a commitment to the primacy of fossil fuels. And yet, a Putin-Trump alliance of climate disruption is a concern, but not a given.
Trump keeps talking about “energy dominance” — a reference to market trends that existed well before he came to office — to justify his green light for fossil fuel projects. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry held a press conference during the White House Energy Week and argued that energy dominance “means self-reliance, it means a secure nation, free from the geopolitical turmoil of other nations who seek to use energy as an economic weapon. An energy-dominant America will export to markets around the world, increasing our global leadership and our influence.”
What Trump doesn’t understand, or may not be willing to say, is that “energy dominance” for oil and gas companies doesn’t necessarily advance American interests. For example, in 2012, Exxon’s then-CEO Rex Tillerson brokered a deal with Russia’s state-owned Rosneft to drill for oil in the Black Sea in Siberia. It was billed as a thaw in relations between Russia and the U.S., at least by ExxonMobil and the Russian government. The strategic partnership, they argued, would profit both: Exxon would gain…