Fear and hope: Climate change and a Trump presidency

Donald Trump has officially become the 45th president of the United States of America, a win that has sent some shock and worry for environmentalists and climate activists around the world.

The US elections came at the same time that the 22nd Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change was happening in Marrakech, Morocco. The COP is an annual conference of governments to discuss how to prevent dangerous man-made climate change.

Last year’s COP in Paris produced the Paris Agreement, a climate treaty hailed as historical by many.

The Paris Agreement was built on the foundation of trust and was built on more than two decades of negotiations. While over a hundred countries have already ratified it and while it has officially taken effect last Nov. 4, it still stands on fragile ground. Countries do not want to see another failure such as the Kyoto Protocol, where big carbon emitters such as the United States and Canada withdrew from.

The United States is an important party to the negotiations. It has, and have, until today, influenced the negotiations strongly. This is largely because the US ranks first out of 185 countries, responsible for 30 percent of global historic emissions from 1850-2012. From 2012, the United States has ranked second to China, producing 17 percent of global emissions. This means that without the United States, the biggest carbon emitter, the Paris Agreement will mean nothing.

Trump, a vocal climate skeptic, has sent fears of a reversal of the progress that has been made in recent years in terms of climate action. Trump, during his campaign, has said that climate change “was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive” and that if elected president, he will “cancel” the Paris Agreement. He has also said that he will take out all funding from US climate change related programs, including giving funding to the UNFCCC. Trump is known to support extracting and drilling for oil, coal, and natural gas.

In fact, in the lineup of possible cabinet positions, Trump has seemed to make it a priority to put all climate skeptics in his administration. According to an article by Politico, Trump might put Forrest Lucas, an oil executive, or Sarah Palin, whose campaign in 2010 was “Drill, baby, drill!” as interior secretary.

According to Jesse Bragg of Corporate Accountability International, the interior secretary is an important position as it oversees the National Parks System in the US and more importantly the Bureau of Land Management.

“These are where lease agreements for fossil fuel extraction happen on national lands. It’s an important position for stopping expansion of fossil fuel extraction projects in the US,” says Bragg.

And quite more obviously, the energy secretary and the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) also play an important role when it comes to climate and environment. The US’ climate plans and pledges to the UNFCCC rests largely on their Clean Power Plan which seeks to mitigate carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The EPA is seen to be handed over to Myron Ebell, a known climate skeptic and an official at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. It is an organization well-known for opposing progressive environmental policy. They have also been involved in the investigation on Exxon Mobil on spreading climate denial despite knowing about climate change in the 1970’s.

Harold Hamm, on the other hand, is a candidate as energy secretary. Hamm is the CEO of Continental Resources, a major oil producer, and has been advocating to cut down on oil and gas regulations so that the US can produce more.

Trump’s clear stand on climate change, together with these new people in his government will certainly hamper any efforts being made today by the rest of the world.

But while many have become quite fearful that the US might pull out of the Paris Agreement soon, Segolene Royale, French minister for environment and COP 21 president, assured that it will not be too easy for the US to do so.

“The Paris Agreement prohibits any exit for a period of three years, plus a year-long notice period, so there will be four stable years,” she said.

Carroll Muffet, president of Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), also sees it as a must for the US to keep to its promise.

“The Paris Agreement was signed and ratified not by a President, but by the United States itself. As a matter of international law, and as a matter of human survival, the nations of the world can, must, and will hold the United States to its climate commitments,” said Muffet.

Other organizations are now trying to see this as an opportunity for Trump, who is also a well-known businessman, to invest in renewable energy able to compete with other countries starting to do so.

“President-elect Trump has the opportunity to catalyze further action on climate that sends a clear signal to investors to keep the transition to a renewable-powered economy on track. China, India, and other economic competitors are racing to be the global clean energy superpower, and the US doesn’t want to be left behind,” said Tina Johnson of Climate Action Network US.

Meanwhile, the negotiators inside COP 22 continue with business, knowing that climate change will not wait for the US to take action before it hits any of their countries.


Originally published at Manila Standard