When U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in April at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, one topic was not on the agenda: the environment. Perhaps they couldn’t find enough common ground. Xi, a chemical engineer by training, has often spoken publicly about his concerns over the effects of climate change on China, where almost 20 percent of the land is desert, an area expanding at a rate of more than 1,300 square miles per year. Analysts believe Xi is also determined to help China dominate the clean energy industry. In 2015, China installed more than one wind turbine every hour, on average, and enough solar panels to cover over two dozen soccer fields every day, according to Greenpeace. As part of its drive to clean up dangerous air pollution in Chinese cities, Beijing has canceled the construction of more than 100 coal-fired power plants this year alone. Such measures, coupled with Xi’s commitment to the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change, have turned Xi into a global leader on energy and the environment, filling a void created by the man who sat across the table from him at Mar-a-Lago.
Trump’s position on environmental protection has been consistent: he wants far less of it. Unlike Xi, Trump and many of his cabinet secretaries question the scientific consensus that human activities are the main driver of climate change. In the name of regulatory reform and job creation, they want to increase domestic fossil fuel production and roll back limits on both greenhouse gas emissions and the release of conventional pollutants. During his campaign, Trump promised to “get rid of” the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “We’re going to have little tidbits left, but we’re going to take a tremendous amount out,” he said in March 2016. And his administration is considering withdrawing from the Paris agreement, a move that would undermine the United States’ standing in the world, cede clean energy jobs and investment to China and Europe, and expose