The global fight against climate change will suffer a blow from Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election, threatening the industries working to clean up pollution from fossil fuel.
The next president has questioned the science of climate change, vowed to withdraw from the Paris agreement on global warming and pledging to stimulate production of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. Green campaigners and policymakers, some of whom are gathered this week in Morocco for talks on implementing the Paris deal, sounded the alarm over the upheaval they expect when Trump takes office in January.
“The presidency of Donald Trump relegates the West as we knew it to the realm of the past,” Reinhard Butikofer and Monica Frassoni, co-chairs of the European Green Party, said in a statement. “If Donald Trump pursues the foreign policies that he announced during his campaign, this will severely undermine transatlantic relations, the international rule of law and world peace.”
The U.S. under President Barack Obama rescued a two-decade old process the United Nations promoted to rein in pollution damaging the climate, forging the Paris deal last year. Along with China and more than 190 other countries, the accord set out a framework for all nations to cut emissions. Trump has said he will cancel that work.
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“Trump’s election is a disaster,” May Boeve, executive director of the anti-fossil-fuel campaign group 350.org, said in a statement. “Trump will try and slam the brakes on climate action. Our work becomes much harder now, but it's not impossible, and we refuse to give up.”
Envoys drawn from environment and energy ministries gathered on Monday for two weeks off talks on climate organized by the United Nations, aiming to make progress implementing the Paris deal. They have a round of technical meetings this morning and are due to finish their work on Nov. 18 with a set of rules on how Paris will be implemented.
It would be difficult but not impossible for Trump to pull out of the Paris accord. While the Senate never voted on the Paris deal is part of the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which the U.S. ratified under Republican President George H.W. Bush. Trump would have to renounce the 1992 treaty or risk bringing down the entire UN process to scrap Paris. He'd have to give three year's notice to withdraw legally.
“If the U.S. pulls out of this process and is seen as going as a rogue nation on climate change, that will have implications for everything else on President Trump's agenda when he wants to deal with foreign leaders,” Alden Meyer, who has been following the UN talks for more than two decades, said at the organization's annual gathering in Marrakech on Wednesday.“I think he will soon come to understand that.”
Doubts about U.S. support for the accord could stall progress in talks in Morocco this week and next, since other nations wouldn't trust that any commitments the U.S. made will stick after Trump takes office. The U.S. is the richest among the top six polluting nations, and its support for the deal is essential to keep China and other developing economies working for cleaner industry.
French Environment Minister Segolene Royal expressed concern about Trump's stance in a posting on Twitter, noting that Obama “ratified and committed” the U.S. to the Paris Agreement and there should be “no withdrawal,” adding, “Let's stay vigilant for climate.”
The Paris deal, which saw 197 countries agree last year to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and work toward net zero greenhouse gas emissions, came into force on Nov. 4 after being ratified by almost 100 countries, including the U.S.
While small island states are some of the most vulnerable to climate change, the U.S. is also seeing the impact of extreme weather events. Superstorm Sandy in 2012 caused $67 billion of damage in the U.S., according to the World Meteorological Organization. It will be tough for a new president to ignore such events that are happening with increased frequency as a result of climate change.
“Now the election campaign has passed and the realities of leadership settle in, I expect he will realize that climate change is a threat to his people and to whole countries which share seas with the U.S., including my own,” said Hilda Heine, president of the Marshall Islands, said by e-mail.
Global markets were thrown into disarray as results from the U.S. poured in. Wind turbine makers led the biggest declines in five months. Vestas Wind Systems A/S dropped as much as 14 percent, continuing a plunge that started yesterday with a bleaker outlook for next year.
A Trump victory could mean “the U.S. won’t be leading the world the way it led under Obama,” Kimiko Hirata, a board member at the Kiko Network, a Kyoto-based environmental group, said by phone.
China’s top climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, last week criticized Trump’s climate stance, according to Reuters. A joint pact between the world's two biggest producers of carbon emissions announced a year ago was seen as key to the success of the Paris summit.
The U.S. government has vowed to cut emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent in 2025 from 2005 levels. Achieving that goal is likely to be difficult under a Trump administration as the President Elect won't need approval from Congress to roll back Obama's Clean Power Plan and other key climate policies, said Meyer, who is director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Yet despite Trump’s climate skepticism, a growing number of Republican politicians accept the real threat of climate change and its ability to impact the economy, said Meyer, in Marrakech.
“The politically savvy politicians understand that they are on the wrong end of history if they continue to preach climate denialism, that younger voters, Hispanics, women and others they need for electoral success will see this as a disqualifying issue if they don't accept the knowledge on climate change,” he said.
Regardless of the election outcome, Renmin University’s Zheng said he's confident China will continue its efforts to curb greenhouse gases even without U.S. coordination.
“The U.S. has joined the Paris Agreement and must continue to meet its climate obligations,” Kelly Stone, a climate campaigner at ActionAid, said at the UN talks in Marrakech. “Leaving this important international agreement will damage our credibility and would be a major setback in the fight against climate change.”