Saturday March 25, 2023

The denialist

November 25, 2016

Some of the loudest noises coming from the Trump camp suggest that his administration will withdraw from the Paris climate deal.

Since this process takes four years, it’s rumored that Trump is considering the shortcut of leaving the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which George Bush Sr. signed in 1992 and the Senate ratified. That would set the U.S. apart from every other nation on earth (except the Vatican, which is strongly in favour of climate action all the same). There would be no clearer way to signal that Trump is making the U.S. a rogue state.

Alternatively, the Trump administration might choose to ignore Washington’s commitments without formally abandoning the international climate process. One of the first victims could be the global Green Climate Fund, which was set up to help developing countries with their climate transitions – and is now unlikely to see at least $2 billion of the $3 billion originally promised to it by the United States.

But the Trump wrecking ball won’t be able to destroy everything in its path. There are strong signs that U.S. isolation won’t wreck the Paris Agreement. Many other countries (including  Saudi Arabia) have suggested that they will stick to their international climate commitments with or without the United States.

There’s precedent here, too: When George W. Bush withdrew from the last global climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, the rest of the world continued with it anyway.

Faced with failed harvests, floods, droughts, and ever more extreme weather, most countries now realize that taking on climate change is in their own self-interest. Ultimately, the countries that lead the way in renewable energy, efficient buildings, and improved public transport (among other climate measures) will be best placed to cope with changes in the global economy.

If Trump follows the path of isolation, as he and his acolytes currently brag about doing, the big loser will be the United States itself. Other countries (notably, Canada and Mexico)   might retaliate  with border taxes for American goods if Trump welches on Washington’s climate commitments, and going it alone would  considerably damage U.S. “soft power” – the ability to broker favorable international deals in other areas, ranging from defense to trade – as well as threatening jobs in clean energy, whichalready outnumber those in fossil fuel extraction.

Trump promises to take the U.S. in the opposite direction: scrapping the Clean Power Plan and gutting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), starting with the appointment of climate denier  Myron Ebell to lead its transition team. But scrapping the Clean Power Plan could   lead to a long legal battle, as would attempts to ditch long-standing regulations like fuel-efficiency standards for cars.

Even if Trump succeeds, almost half of the U.S. population lives in states that have already planned for its implementation. Those efforts may continue regardless of the federal government. For example, California legislators have already made clear they will not repeal a recently approvedtarget of 40 percent emissions reductions by 2030. And from Boston to Boulder, a growing list of U.S. cities have pledged to cut 80 percent of their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and have developed plans to make that a reality.

Trump’s plans for a return to coal power won’t get far without large new subsidies or a sustained attack on the fracking industry. Otherwise the numbers simply  don’t add up. Meanwhile the economics of renewable energy are getting better all the time. Residential solar power is expected to out-compete     fossil fuels in over 40 states by 2020, while huge advances are also being made in energy storage and the development of electric vehicles.

While advances in technology and the changing economics of energy could very well dampen the impacts of the climate skepticism emanating from the White House, they obviously won’t come anywhere close to what the U.S. needs to do to actually pull its weight on climate change.

In short, while Trump’s election is a disaster for the climate, there remains plenty of fertile ground for an energy transition, and many spaces to sow the seeds of a new economy.


The article has been excerpted from: ‘Trump Can’t Hold Back the Tide of Climate Action’.