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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European utilities will not reduce their investments in renewables if U.S. President Donald Trump lowers U.S. climate goals, encouraged by Chinese and EU political commitments to low carbon energy, electricity lobby Eurelectric said.
Trump, who campaigned on a pledge to bolster the U.S. oil, gas and coal industries, said during the campaign he would pull the United States out of a global pact reached in Paris in 2015 to cut greenhouse gases, although he has not yet acted on that pledge.
"If the U.S. fundamentally changes course it will become an element of the debate in Europe," Kristian Ruby, secretary general of Europe's electricity industry association Eurelectric, told Reuters.
However, he said the falling cost of renewable sources such as wind and solar power and the needs of companies to spread their risk should lead to sustained investment in renewables.
EU officials have stood by their commitment to fight global warming, but fear that a leadership vacuum created by a U.S. change of heart would embolden those within the bloc seeking to slow their efforts.
Poland, which sees the EU's drive against global warming as a menace to its coal-powered energy industry, is threatening to challenge a draft EU climate law in court, EU documents seen by Reuters show.
Faced with a U.S. retreat from international efforts to tackle climate change, EU officials are looking to China as an ally in the campaign.
"We are also seeing some clear signals out of China that they will stay the course so we don't see any need to rock the boat on this issue," Ruby said.
The rise of renewables and slumping power demand in recent years has crushed fossil fuel margins and forced many utilities to rethink their strategy.
But Ruby said traditional energy generating methods such as coal would continue to play a role in Europe's energy mix, even as renewables were set to rise to 50 percent by 2030.
"We care about emissions going down, rather than the actual split between those technologies," Ruby said.
Eurelectric called on EU lawmakers to take measures to strengthen the bloc's emission trading system (ETS), which charges power plants and factories for every tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) they emit.
EU lawmakers are due to vote next week on draft reforms of the market that will reduce the share of free carbon permits handed out after 2020 as part of an effort to fix oversupply in the market and boost prices.
Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Adrian Croft