Conservation news

Trump: the biggest threat to Earth’s climate balance (commentary)

  • The backward climate policies of Donald Trump, including his climate change denier agency appointments, and abandonment of the U.S. Clean Power Plan, are detrimental to the U.S. economy, the international community, and the fight against climate change, says this commentary written by two members of the Network of Specialists in Nature Conservation, the WRI Brasil executive director and a senior Brazilian climate scientist.
  • As the rest of the world moves toward a sustainable future — developing clean, cutting edge energy technologies and reducing fossil fuel emissions — the new president goes backward, embracing the dirty energy technologies of the 19th century.
  • At a time when the world needs to urgently focus all its efforts on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, instead the global community — including the G7, G20, banks and multilateral agencies — must divert their attention to U.S. attempts to subvert the Paris Agreement.
  • To counter this lack of leadership, nations like Brazil, India and Indonesia, along with civil society leaders, must fill the void created by the United States, attracting investment for low-carbon economies, and eliminating the inefficiencies of out-dated regulatory and governance models.
Earth as seen from space. The climate denial policies of Donald Trump are a “huge setback, weakening the United States’ role in the global order,” write Carlos Nobre and Rachel Biderman in their commentary. Image courtesy of NASA

The retrograde campaign promises made by U.S. President Donald Trump regarding climate change have started to materialize, with the appointment of global warming deniers for key U.S. government positions. Revoking climate regulations, which would have gone a long way to meeting America’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, seems intended to send the country back to the 19th century.

It is a huge setback, weakening the United States’ role in the global order.

Trump’s decree, which dismantled the Clean Power Plan, was signed alongside corporate mining executives, and includes sophisms such as “we’re going to have clean coal, really clean coal,” and the assertion that “it’s going to create jobs.” Actually, due to automation, the American coal industry produces 50 percent more compared to the 1940s, but employs just one-eighth of the workers.

The renewable energy industry has been much more competitive, and is likely to generate millions of jobs, and to keep the U.S. competitive in the global clean technology market. A number of U.S. companies are abandoning fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions for their own economic benefit.

A Pre-Trump U.S. Environmental Protection Agency poster supporting the international partnership to combat climate change. Pres. Trump has appointed Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier, as head of the agency. Photo courtesy of USEPA Environmental Protection Agency

Neglecting climate change does a disservice to American citizens. Business will be greatly impacted by extreme weather events and other negative economic risks caused by climate change, not to mention the impact on human health associated with burning fossil fuels.

Climate change has been a constant topic around the world and in international meetings. It is part of the agenda at important negotiation tables, including international conferences, G7, G20, bank and multilateral agency meetings, as well as at important forums like the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The G7, happening at the end of May, is a moment where Trump’s being out of step with the world may become apparent. In this setting, Trump’s behavior not only indicates a dangerous setback to meeting planetary emission goals, but also puts the Paris Climate Agreement at risk.

In fact, if the United States steps away as one of the world leaders in global negotiations on climate, there will be ramifications in peace, safety and trade negotiations too, since they all go hand-in-hand. The ripple effects of being a climate loner run far and wide.

A man stands amid the devastation brought by Typhoon Haiyan to the city of Tacloban in the Philippines. This 2013 hurricane was the deadliest (killing 6,300 people) and one of the most powerful on record. Storms like Haiyan in the Pacific and Sandy in the Atlantic are intensifying due to climate change and doing significant harm to national security and national economies around the globe. Photo courtesy of the DFID – UK Department for International Development

At a moment in which we should all be making big strides towards the implementation of clean, cutting edge technologies to handle global warming, the international community is at risk of wasting its time dealing with Trump’s retrograde policies.

Dismantling environmental policies via executive order will not be left unchallenged though. Companies, state and local governments, and NGOs threaten to contest administration measures that violate the laws now in effect, such as the Clean Air Act.

For nations like Brazil, India, and Indonesia, the void created by the lack of leadership in the USA may create opportunities to take the lead, attract investment for low-carbon economies, and help solve the inefficiencies of out-dated regulatory and governance models that push away investors. Above all, governments and civil society leaders must be sure to make use of the empty space created by the U.S. President’s lack of leadership, blindness and nonsensical policies.

Rachel Biderman: executive director for World Resource Institute (WRI) Brasil.
Carlos Nobre: climate scientist, member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences, in the United States, and senior fellow of WRI Brasil. They are both members of the Network of Specialists in Nature Conservation.

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The Arc de Triomphe illuminated in green to celebrate the Paris Climate Agreement’s Entry into Force. While Trump has still not decided whether to withdraw the United States from the Paris pact, his policies are already undermining its goals. Photo by the U.S. Department of State