As the world comes together for COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco, everyone who has even a passing interest in climate action is gravely concerned about the election of Donald Trump. This year’s U.N. climate conference is in stark contrast to last year’s conference in Paris where almost every nation on Earth agreed to emissions reduction. The deal officially came into force last month.
A Climate Change News article by Thomas Hale, professor of public policy at Oxford University quite correctly says, “The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States is a disaster for our climate and everything under it.” Although he qualifies his statement saying that it “will not be as bad as it might have been.”
Trump, is the only major global leader who does not believe in climate change. Trump’s energy and environment platform is a disaster. He has repeatedly stated that he intends to cancel the Paris Agreement. President Obama did an end-run around Republicans by bypassing the Senate to secure the deal and he did what he could to GOP-proof the agreement. While Trump cannot officially withdraw from the agreement for at least four years, he can seriously undermine the accord by not honoring the agreement. He can also refuse to provide the promised financial support.
The Global Climate Action Agenda that emerged from Paris creates a system to track and accelerate “bottom up” actions. Trump’s disdain for climate action and support for fossil fuels will be countered by other nations, sub-national governments (states/municipalities), businesses, investors, civil society groups, and other actors. Sub-national climate action is being discussed and reinforced at COP22 and UNEP suggests these initiatives could reduce emissions as much as the national climate plans by 2030.
Some have even suggested that market forces alone will be sufficient to keep driving climate action forward. While we can expect that there will be continuing efforts to reduce emissions, there is no way we can ignore the fact that opposition from the US seriously weakens the agreement and makes it highly unlikely we will make the needed cuts to atmospheric carbon.
Still, the Paris Agreement is robust and it is a deal between states, not heads of state. As Jean Su of the Center for Biological Diversity said: “The Paris agreement was signed and ratified not by a president, but by the United States itself. One man alone, especially in the twenty-first century, should not strip the globe of the climate progress that it has made and should continue to make. 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. And it’s incumbent upon U.S. communities to unite and push forth progressive climate policies on a state and local level, where federal policy does not reign.”
While there may be long-term hope for the agreement, Republican obstructionism is set to go global for at least the next four years. However, a new President could instantly re-ratify the Agreement. Even if Americans come to their senses in the next election, it may be too late.
Although climate action will be slowed by the ignorance of this administration, other nations will keep moving forward. Scientists will try to penetrate the seemingly impervious partisan armor worn by the GOP. However, if the past is any indication of the future, Republicans will continue to support fossil fuels and resist climate action, no matter how compelling the science.
One small glimmer of hope may be found in the wealth of research that demonstrates the ROI on low carbon investments. The most optimistic scenario is that this argument makes sense to Trump and in a bid to grow the economy and supply jobs he may break ranks with his party’s notorious resistance.
A Trump presidency will likely result in more support for fossil fuels and less support for renewables. This will virtually guarantee that the US will not live up to its pledge to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below their 2005 levels by the year 2025. The failure of the US to meet its pledges will make it almost impossible to keep global emissions within acceptable limits for the foreseeable future.
As reported by the Washington Post, an analysis from Climate Interactive said the US emissions reduction pledge equates to 22 gigatons, of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions between the years 2016 and 2030. This represents 22 percent of the total emissions reduction pledges made by all nations.
Just as US leadership was critical in securing the Paris agreement, it is also essential to make the deal work. If, as expected, the US fails to meet its pledges, this will erode America’s international standing and embolden China’s global reputation. It may even signal the beginning of the decline of the American empire.
It is only a matter of time before Amercians embrace climate science in sufficient numbers to make responsible political choices. The question is will it be too late to stop us from surpassing tipping points from which we will not be able to recover.