Donald Trump’s Victory Could Mean Disaster for the Planet
Nov. 9, 2016 TIME (abridged)
How were climate scientists, policymaker and diplomats planning to deal with a Donald Trump presidency? The truth is, they weren’t. People who have dedicated their lives to working to save the planet always preferred to focus optimistically on how they could push a President Hillary Clinton to develop climate policy.
But Trump’s move to the White House in just a couple of months will almost certainly bring an end to an era of promising action to address climate change in the U.S. and could unravel ambitious international efforts to do the same. Environmentalists who just days ago hoped to build on the climate successes of President Barack Obama will now be forced to fight tooth and nail to protect existing checks on greenhouse emissions.
“When he assumes office, Trump will be the only head of state to deny that climate change is real,” says Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “We’re going to need to do everything we can to play defense against the worst impulses of the next administration.”
Trump never rooted his campaign in detailed policy agenda, but in his speeches the president-elect promised he would discard much existing environmental regulation and bring back the sick coal industry.
Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement —the most significant international agreement on climate change—seems to rank at the top of Trump’s environmental agenda. As a candidate, he repeatedly promised to “cancel” or renegotiate the agreement. Formally withdrawing from the deal requires a lengthy process that would take at least three years because the agreement has already gone into formal effect. And renegotiating the agreement would be almost impossible, given that the pact is the product of decades of international work.
But Trump still could render the accord meaningless by simply declining to participate. The U.S. have committed through the Paris Agreement to working to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, but the targets are non-binding and the country would face no penalties for non-compliance.
As the world’s second-biggest carbon emitter after China, U.S. inaction will cause major damage to global efforts to reduce carbon emissions and keep warming beneath 2 C . But it would also send an alarming signal to other countries.
Authorities around the world —including in China and Brazil, two major developing world carbon emitters—expressed concern at the possibility of a Trump presidency for climate action in advance of the election. The politics of dropping the agreement would agitate the rest of the world and diminish the country’s standing.
Trump has also promised to discard the Clean Power Plan, which requires states to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.
The Supreme Court has stated that under the Clean Air Act pollutants that can endanger public health or welfare. must be regulated. That ruling specifically applied to carbon emissions from vehicles, but its legal basis was applied to power plants.
However, even with Trump in the White House and Republicans in control of Congress, all hope is not lost. Market forces will continue to push a transition away from polluting energy sources, especially coal, no matter what Trump does. Growth in renewable power generation from sources like wind and solar surpassed growth in fossil fuel power worldwide for the first time last year, in large part because those clean sources have become much cheaper, even without government intervention. Businesses have also increasingly committed to addressing climate change and environmental groups say they expect that progress to continue.
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