Throughout his political campaign, President-Elect, Donald Trump, was infamously outspoken in his support for the coal industry. The avid climate change denier rallied support in coal-country by making clear promises to revitalize the industry. How he plans to accomplish this is still unclear; his message largely centered around clearing up environmental regulations that he blames for coal’s decline.

Critics have been quick to point out that this strategy is largely bogus. Those in the industry understand that coal’s problem is not that it has been treated unfairly — even with climate considerations removed, coal is simply having trouble competing economically with both natural gas and, increasingly, renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar.  

Since his victory, Trump has made modifications to his stances in two relevant ways. First, he has now pledged to have an “open mind” about climate change. Secondly, in his 100-day plan, he has committed to “American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal.”

The use of “clean coal” reserves sounds like a wonderful way to bridge the gap between climate concerns and the coal industry. Of course, there is no such thing as a clean coal reserve.

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) is what is most commonly meant by “clean coal”. This technology (not reserve), intends to scrub emissions from conventional coal and then pump the pollution back into the Earth. However, it has not been proven in a large-scale venue. This is not for lack of trying; over the last few decades, billions of dollars have already been spent trying to get the technology. The results have been mothballed projects that are nowhere near economical viability. 

With coal having such trouble competing financially, it is hard to imagine that adding such a financially cumbersome process will help matters. Bailing out coal with CCS is like trying to bail out the Titanic with a very expensive spoon — what’s the point, especially when other passengers have already started lowering life rafts?

Canada serves as a good example pointing to where the rest of the developed world is starting to think about coal. While his administration has historically been in close step with the U.S., Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has joined Europe and China in moving towards a different direction than Trump’s appears to be headed. Last week, it was announced that even Alberta (for those unfamiliar: imagine if Texas were in Canada) would be phasing out all coal by the year 2030. Prior to arriving here, the province had it’s own experimentation with CCS, coming up grossly empty handed as well.

When it comes to reaching our global climate goals, the biggest problem will not be Canada, Europe, or even the U.S. It is generally agreed that emissions from the developing world are where much of the attention needs to be. The true concern of Trump’s attempt to resurrect U.S. coal is not that he could succeed, it’s how salient his efforts will be to these parts of the world.

This issue was well stated by Dr. Sunita Narin, Director of India’s Centre for Science and Environment, in the 2016 documentary “Before the Flood”. In this interview she does not mince her words in conveying the importance of the U.S. leading India by example, stating “if it was that easy, I would really have liked the U.S. to move to solar. But you haven’t. Let’s put our money where our mouth is.”

Areas like India are at a cross road in their energy evolution and are clearly looking to the U.S. for direction. At a time when renewables are looking so strong in these regions, the influence of a negative role model could mean a very concerning setback. As we debate what how much impact Trump’s dogmatic coal policies will have within the US, it may be more important to watch the impacts on energy investments in the developing world; there is much more to be both gained and lost in these regions.