Climate Change

Mr Trump, please don’t set a bad precedent

Despite the signs of climate change, Donald Trump administration can derail the modest progress that the US has made towards tackling it

By Shreeshan Venkatesh, Subhojit Goswami, Umang Jalan
Last Updated: Thursday 10 November 2016 | 10:22:37 AM
Credit: Gage Skidmore/ Flicker
Credit: Gage Skidmore/ Flicker Credit: Gage Skidmore/ Flicker

Possibility of Trump rolling back clean energy initiatives

Donald Trump’s presidency will be largely defined by his commitment to roll back clean energy initiatives launched over the past eight years. The Republican President may scrap the Clean Power Plan. He may also nix several CO2 regulations that Obama has put in place. “I will eliminate all needless and job-killing regulations now on the books—and there are plenty of them,” Trump had said hinting at clean energy policies.

Trump considers the decisions to develop alternative forms of energy “a big mistake”. According to him, solar energy is an “unproven technology” with low return on investment. While a climate change believer sees a huge opportunity in massive amount of unused wind energy along the coasts, Trump calls it a “very poor source of energy” that is “destroying shorelines all over the world”.

His unflinching support for traditional energy sources is equally worrisome, especially his repeated commitments to “save the coal industry”. He has stated his support for more domestic excavation of oil and gas, specifically in the Outer Continental Shelf. Hence, it is not hard to imagine emissions rising under his presidency.

There’s a fear that the Trump government would ask Trans Canada to renew its permit application for the Keystone Pipeline project, whose fourth phase was rejected by the Obama government. Moreover, it would also try to accelerate the process of developing a five-year proposal (2017-2022) to guide extraction.

Trump’s entry into the White House  couldn’t have happened at a least opportune time for the US when the coal market has been witnessing a sustained decline due to shale gas revolution and tighter environmental standards for coal power plants.


Source: EIA 

Trump’s intervention doesn’t augur well with the renewable energy sector that witnessed a surge in the United States in the first half of 2016. Production of wind, solar and geothermal energy is on the rise. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), renewable energy will account for about one-third of new power generation added to the US grid over the next three years.

Wind energy is leading the way with 19,500 MW of installed capacity at mid-year. In Texas alone, more than 4,200 MW of wind capacity has been installed in 2016 or is currently under construction. Geothermal energy is also expanding, albeit at a slower rate. Nearly 3,000 MW is currently installed and about 4,000 MW more is under development.

Trump has his eyes fixed on the coal industry. He wants to prop it up by bringing in more “clean coal” to the market. “We need much more than wind and solar. There is a thing called clean coal. Coal will last for a thousand years in this country,” Trump had said in one of his campaigns. Clean coal is the outcome of chemically washing coal to remove pollutants while improving efficiency. But neither washing nor gasifier technology does anything about CO2, the greenhouse gas (GHG) produced in large quantities by coal-burning power plants. It doesn't look promising, especially when cheaper and renewable alternatives are available.

Donald Trump: the climate change denier

The Americans are staring at coal-heavy and fossil-driven years since the man at the helm of affairs doesn’t ‘buy’ the fact that global climate change is being caused by carbon emissions. He doesn't accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is real and wants to dismantle the Paris Agreement, something that nearly 200 countries agreed to last December.

In the “New Deal for Black America” plan, which Trump released, he promised to cut all federal spending on the climate change issue to save $100 billion during terms in office. He pledges to “cancel all wasteful climate change spending.” To save that amount, the government has to reduce funding for climate science research and helping the US communities deal with climate-related changes. More importantly, it has to cut all the money the Department of Energy spends on technology development. According to Trump, the US shouldn't waste money on climate change and “instead use it to provide for infrastructure, including clean water, clean air and safety.”

If not the climate scientists, Trump should pay heed to the words of senior US military and national security experts who have warned that the effects of climate change present “a strategically-significant risk” to the US national security. The US has already seen climate refugees in their own country. Coastal populations are threatened by sea level rise; residents of south Florida are already experiencing seawater flooding in streets; hurricanes and storm surge have become more intense and frequent. In Alaska, lakes are getting smaller due to increased evaporation caused by warmer temperatures and shrubs are expanding. On the other hand, drought conditions are worsening in the southeastern part of the country.

Despite these signs of climate change, Donald Trump administration can derail the modest progress that the US has made. “Donald Trump has promised to halt the Obama administration's programmes on climate change. He would have considerable ability to do that. It would be very time-consuming to repeal existing regulations, but Trump could order a halt to enforcement of them. There would certainly be many lawsuits challenging this action, but they could take years to resolve,” said Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

“Should Trump become president, international arrangements for trade, collective security and nuclear proliferation will all be threatened. The Paris Agreement will continue to be supported by other countries, but the willingness of these countries to take action to limit emissions will be weakened. It will be a riskier, more fragmented and less secure world,” said Scott Barrett, Professor of Natural Resource Economics at the Columbia University.

It is only a matter of decade or two before the world's 1.5°C carbon budget is blown. Hence, the impact of decisions made over the next four years will last much longer. Trump can do a lot to alter the course of the country and set it on a course of destruction by not working towards a transition to a zero-carbon economy.

His campaign motto has been ‘Make America Great Again’. But does a great country choose economic growth over the well-being of its people?

Putting economy before environment

Here's a look at some of the remarks Donald Trump had made over the course of his presidential campaign.

Climate Change               

"We should be focused on clean and beautiful air-not expensive and business closing GLOBAL WARMING-a total hoax!

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.”

“There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of climate change"

Paris Agreement             

"I believe so much in the environment. Believe it or not, people are shocked — I’ve won many environmental awards. But the Paris deal, supported by Hillary, will cost our country another US$5.3 trillion over a period of time and skyrocket electricity prices.”

“We will cancel this deal so that our companies can compete. We want clean beautiful air. We want crystal clear water. That’s what we want. We want to be able to do business throughout the world, not so that we can’t compete because of these crazy deals that our president is making."

Clean and Renewable Energy   

"American Energy Policy is putting a lot of people out of work and they are a disaster.”

“If I am elected president i will immediately approve the keystone xl pipeline. No impact on environment and lots of jobs for US."

"I would lift moratoriums on energy production in federal areas. We’re going to revoke policies that impose unwarranted restrictions on new drilling technologies"

“According to the Energy Information Administration, the United States has the largest recoverable coal resources in the world. We’re talking clean coal – beautiful, clean coal … Over 90 percent of U.S. coal is used for electricity. In other words, my plan will make your energy bill much less expensive – much, much cheaper. Hillary Clinton’s anti-energy agenda is a massive tax on the poor.”

"Hillary Clinton wants to shut down energy production and shut down the mines, and she wants to shut down – she said it just recently – she wants to shut down the miners. I want to do exactly the opposite."

Pollution and Clean Power Plan

"We would eliminate the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States rule.”

“We would scale back the latest regulations on ozone pollution and eliminate the EPA's Renewable Identification Number program, which is part of the Renewable Fuel Standard programme.”

Can state action cushion Trump’s anti-environment policies?

By Umang Jalan

How will Donald Trump's presidency affect the world? Will he implement radical policies or continue USA's bland status quo on climate change? According to a report published by the Centre for Science and Environment, USA’s recent decline in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can be attributed largely to the prevailing economic circumstances and not to any significant concern for the environment. The Trump presidency however, in addition to being unambitious, is also likely to be regressive on climate change.

The deregulation and softening of environmental standards promised by Donald Trump will significantly increase GHG emissions from fossil fuel consumption. It is however of note that USA’s governance system gives more autonomy to its states, unlike India. This includes independent action on the environment. State’s autonomy has traditionally strengthened during republican (Trump is one) administrations. However, the strong federal (or Central) stance may overshadow this autonomy and negatively affect states that perform better environment governance.

For example, New York state placed a moratorium on fracking (hydraulic fracturing), due to federal laws regulating shale gas production. Such policies may have to change, as federal permits for fossil fuel production and exploration are slated to increase. This may hold supremacy over state regulations on oil and gas production, leading to legal ambiguity.

The state of California stands out in climate change action. In the past, it has fared better than federal regulations on fuel efficiency, energy efficiency, carbon trading (and taxation), renewable energy expansion, among others. Implementing such progressive climate and environmental policy will be more difficult in Trump’s presidency because of federal dis-incentives for such interventions.

About 87 per cent of all the new solar power projects added in the US were concentrated in ten (of the total 50) states, with California leading the pack. Some states like Arizona with high renewable energy potential are not investing in it. The concentrated nature of solar energy signals the importance of state action to develop increasing renewable energy capacity. The scale of renewable energy development however will suffer because of the lack of political will federal incentives.

USA’s laggard stance may motivate Norway and other developed Scandinavian countries, who have an increasingly significant role in providing international funding for climate change, to increase their climate commitments. There will, however, still be a big deficit left in climate finance if the US backs out of its technology and finance commitments. USA is also likely to use its diplomatic clout to weaken enforcement of the Paris Agreement.

How is COP22 reacting to Trump’s win?

The election of a climate change denier like Donald Trump as the 45th President of the US today has rattled delegates and civil society members alike at the COP22. Fears that the election of Trump will derail the process of climate negotiations are surfacing and have become more palpable over the course of the morning sessions. Civil society groups have held some press conferences to address fears while delegates, both from the US and elsewhere, have remained tight-lipped.

Some delegates admit, but only in private, that the election of Trump is likely to be bad for international cooperation and the global efforts to fight climate change. However, they say that it is too early to say anything about how Trump's election will affect the American stance or the talks. The general feeling is that of a nervous anticipation. 

If the federal government pulls out of the Paris Agreement and from Obama's climate action plan, it will have an obvious impact. Though there seems to be support in the US to promote clean energy initiatives, what would happen to other regulations in place and commitments that the country has made on a global paltform?

Down To Earth spoke to the members of the civil society to know their reactions

Mariana Panuncio, WWF: The election will undoubtedly have an impact on the negotiations but the task in front of us remains the same and requires global cooperation and action. If the US wants to remain relevant, the new administration will have to realise the urgency and importance of climate action and get on with the talks. Other countries will move forward with or without the US.

Katherine Egland, NAACP: Trump's election is far from ideal for the US and the world, especially in the context of climate negotiations. People in the coast have a high proportion of minorities and they are the most vulnerable to climate impacts in the US. In the case of inaction or withdrawal, we will hold Trump accountable. A binding treaty has been signed and we will see to it that it will be binding.

Jesse Bragg, Corporate Accountability International: This is a dark day for the US that a climate denier has been elected to the highest public office. But the only thing for the world to do is to move forward even if it means that the US will not be a part of this process. The US has never really been a leader when it comes to climate action and this is not the first time the world faces the prospect of needing to proceed without the US. The ideal response would be for the global south to unite in negotiations which would in a way negate the impact of a Trump presidency and pressurise the world into implementation and action.

So far, we have no clue what Trump will actually do. Although he has made numerous head-in-sand comments, he is very unpredictable. Domestically, state- and city-level actions have been encouraging and it gives hope that Americans are in favour of appropriate climate action.

Jean Su, Centre for Biological Diversity: The election results are abhorrent and quite unacceptable but it is important to remember that the world will not crash and burn and neither will climate negotiations. Although Trump has expressed a desire to tear up the Paris Agreement in the past we do not know for sure what is in store. Most likely, he might just remain on the sidelines and do nothing regarding the commitments of the US or reporting responsibilities. Trump has issued a threat to dissolve the Environment Protection Agency but this is easier said than done. The most viable option to counter Trump would be public mobilisation.

David Waskow, WRI: The election result must not be seen as a referendum on climate change. The underlying dynamics in the US are highly favourable to tackle climate change. Private commitment to reduce emissions and adopt green practices is evident; actions to reduce carbon emissions and to measure climate change impacts have been going on in cities and states governed by both democrats and republicans. The clean energy initiatives are bipartisan and so I am hopeful that the underlying domestic dynamics might will carry us through.

There is unlikely to be much change in the language or strategy of the US delegation during the current round of discussions. I don’t want to pre-judge the language of the delegation but this team still works under the Obama administration. But there is no telling what future negotiations from the US might look like. Even though Trump denies climate change, it is highly likely that the G7, G20 and other international groupings will ensure that climate shall stay in the forefront. One critical issue right now is setting the rules for the Paris Agreement and as far as I know there should be no change in track in this regard, as the team representing the US this year is still Obama’s.

Celia Gautier, EU Climate policy advisor at Climate Action Network France (RAC-F): The EU has been making great progress with climate action. Clean energy and reduction of emissions has been in progress and it will not change regardless of what Trump decides to do. This process is only bound to get stronger with time and in all likelihood the EU will keep the climate action agenda at the forefront in a way that makes it very difficult to be dismissed by the US.

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  • Ecology is going to be of prime concern over Economics. Political leaders must realise this otherwise hell is not away.

    Posted by: A.k.pandey | 2 years ago | Reply