Playing with fire: Trump and the Paris Agreement

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IMAGE: Harriet Cheshire

US President-Elect Donald Trump has a widely documented history of climate change denial. For example, in 2012, Trump tweeted: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing noncompetitive.” Whereas President Obama has made many advances in the fields of environmentalism and building a green economy, these look set to stagnate and even regress under his successor, and as Obama made many of his climate change commitments through executive order, it will be in Trump’s power to reverse them. America now has “a President-Elect who actually does not believe climate change is real”, to quote one-time Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders. Another denier of climate change, Myron Ebell, has been chosen to lead the Environmental Protection Agency transition. All in all, things aren’t looking very good for planet Earth under a Trump administration (not that they were looking too good anyway).

Issues to do with the environment and climate change always get brushed off; not a single question relating to the environment was asked by the moderators of the presidential debates between Trump and Clinton. One could argue that this is because voters simply do not care about climate change, especially in the key battleground swing states, and although 65 per cent of Americans now do believe that climate change is man-made, it’s a figure scarily too low.

Withdrawing is dangerous for the future of the planet.

While campaigning, Trump pledged to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, an international climate change accord agreed in December 2015 and signed by 195 nations, stating that global warming should be kept below 1.5°C. Under it, the US has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025. Not only is withdrawing dangerous for the future of the planet, but it’s also reckless on a global political stage. Trump may not always care how he is viewed, but in pulling out of an agreement that has global consensus and was spearheaded by the US, he risks permanently damaging the US’ foreign relations. Even China has rejected Trump’s plans, with the Chinese special representative for climate change stating that “a wise political leader should take policy stances that conform with global trends”.

Even assuming (and hoping) that this was all just campaign rhetoric, Trump still looks set to defund environment programmes. If the $2.5bn fund pledged by the US under the Paris deal to aid poorer counties were to be withdrawn, it could seriously harm the global cause. The agreement would take three to four years to be officially withdrawn from, by which time Trump’s first term would be nearing completion; he could choose to simply ignore emissions targets, and without the leadership of the US, other countries could flout their own emission commitments. Domino after domino.

As a “great businessman” (though there’s some debate about that), Trump’s problem is that he simply doesn’t care about the environment, and prioritises the economy over it. He prefers the short term returns that resurgence in coal would bring over long term investment in renewables. But how can the economy, at basics simply a concept created by humans to divide resources, ever be as or more important than something as real and tangible as stopping Earth from heading towards an environmental apocalypse?

Just stop and think about that, Mr Trump, when you start issuing those grand executive orders.


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