Those Pakistanis who believe that Trump’s election will somehow be beneficial to this part of the world since he will make domestic issues his priority should in fact be very worried instead.
Donald Trump is a well-known climate denier who tweeted in 2012 that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive”. This is regardless of the fact that, according to research, 97 percent of scientists worldwide think climate change is a reality.
In December last year, at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, 195 countries agreed to limit global warming to 2 degrees C and if possible 1.5 C. We have already reached around one degree of warming, so the window to take action is closing fast.
The Paris Agreement has now been ratified in record time by 111 nations (including Pakistan) and it went into legal force on November 5 this year, shortly before the recently concluded Marrakech UN Climate Change Conference began. Many of the details on how to move forward urgently as one global community to curb carbon emissions, which cause global warming, were to be settled in Marrakesh.
However, a bombshell fell on the Marrakesh conference just before the first week wrapped up when Donald Trump was elected president of the US. Experts say Donald Trump, who has openly stated that he will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, can void US involvement in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in a year’s time, or just issue a presidential order simply deleting the US signature from the Paris accord.
In the halls and restaurants of the Marrakesh conference, people taking a break from the negotiations were all talking about the long shadow cast on the conference by Donald Trump’s election. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, who gave an emotional farewell speech at the conference, acknowledged that he didn’t quite know what would happen next with US climate negotiations, but that investing in fossil fuel infrastructure made no sense anymore as the momentum for a low emissions economy moves forward. He, along with President Obama, had been very active in getting the world to sign up to the Paris Agreement.
According to Saleem ul Haq, a senior Bangladeshi climate expert, “If Donald Trump takes the action on climate change that he threatens, this COP (Conference of Parties) will mark the transition of global leadership from the US to China for the rest of this century. Climate change will be the defining issue of this century”.
Already countries are facing climate change impacts like violent storms, increased flooding and droughts and a rise in sea level (which is threatening small island states). Developing countries like Pakistan are most at risk. In fact, Pakistan has gone up one place from number 8 to number 7 in this year’s Long-Term Climate Risk Index brought out by Germanwatch.
The Marrakech conference ended on a low note even as governments vowed to defend the Paris Agreement and push it forward. “The good news is that country after country has said that it will implement and strengthen the agreement at the conference… and numerous states and cities in the US will stay the course”, said a representative from civil society’s Climate Action Network.
According to Bilal Anwar, a Pakistani climate change expert at the talks, “The Marrakech Action Proclamations (that was given out during the conference) did not achieve exactly what everyone hoped for but a clear commitment for taking the Paris Agreement forward into action was expressed. Significant work areas including climate finance were left unfinished but in the backdrop of Trump’s election, it is an important signal!”
Donald Trump’s appointments of various climate deniers to key posts, however, are raising the alarm. According to Chandra Bhushan from the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, “Whether the US stays or leaves, Trump’s presidency would be extremely destructive to the Paris Agreement… he may not provide the funds pledged. He may go back on the US commitment to cut down emissions”.
He advocates that the Paris Agreement should go on without Trump, explaining that at least that way we would know who the enemy is. The question remains: will climate change do irreversible damage to our civilisation while Trump remains in power?
The writer is a freelance environmental journalist based in Islamabad. She has been regularly attending the UN Climate Change conferences.