Why President Donald Trump is an even bigger disaster than you thought

World's most influential climate champion elects man who does not believe in the science behind man-made climate change, and has threatened to 'cancel' the Paris Agreement

Adam Withnall
Wednesday 09 November 2016 09:10 GMT
Donald Trump wins US Presidential Election

Climate experts who have been nervously watching the US election from the UN summit in Marrakech will now go into crisis mode at the news that Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.

Many attendees stayed up through the night to find out whether a man who has previously described “the concept of global warming” as being “created by and for the Chinese” will be named the most powerful leader in the world.

The Morocco summit has seen representatives from around the world gather to discuss how last year’s groundbreaking Paris Agreement will be implemented in practice.

But Mr Trump has previously stated that he wants to dismantle the accord, which aims to limit global warming to within 2C, suggesting the US should not waste "financial resources” on tacking the issue.

What Trump has said about climate change

The new US President has tweeted dozens of times about how he does not accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that man-made climate change is real.

Asked about his views on ScienceDebate, he said: "There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of 'climate change. We must decide on how best to proceed so that we can make lives better, safer and more prosperous.”

The issue of climate change came up only once in the three live US presidential debates between Mr Trump and his defeated opponent Hillary Clinton.

Ms Clinton said she wanted to make America “the clean energy superpower of the 21st century”, and added: “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it's real… I think science is real.”

The Republican denied the content of his tweet, saying: “I did not. I did not. I do not say that.”

Whether this gives hope to climate experts that Mr Trump could change his position, or concern that the new US President would say something evidently untrue on live TV, remains to be seen.

How will President Trump impact the climate?

Patricia Espinosa, the UN’s top climate official, said last month that there was “no plan B” for the event of a Trump presidency.

Speaking to Climate Home, she admitted the US election result would have serious “implications” for how the world tackles climate change.

Follow the latest fallout from the US election live here

But climate officials have also been bullish since the start of the COP22 summit, saying there is no going back on the Paris Agreement.

“I think everyone in the world is following the election process because of the implications, and we are vigilant, but it’s important to bear in mind the Paris Agreement has an incredible amount of legitimacy,” Ms Espinosa said.

“It remains a treaty that is in force. What we will do is be vigilant and attentive.”

In a report released at the summit on Tuesday, experts warned that the global climate had shown an "increasingly visible human footprint” in the last five years.

The World Meteorological Organization, the UN’s weather agency, said 2011-2015 was the hottest five-year period on record, and that many extreme events during the period were made more likely as a result of man-made climate change.

"The evidence is overwhelming," said Chris Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. "The new report from WMO is a clarion call for embracing and going beyond the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

How possible that is, with Donald Trump as US President, remains to be seen.

In May, he said he would “cancel” the agreement, which was ratified by Barack Obama and has since received ratification by 55 of the 197 parties to the UN's climate convention (UNFCCC), representing the required threshold of 55 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr Trump could “simply withdraw” the US from the agreement, on the basis that Mr Obama acceded using an executive order, according to international relations associate professor Robert Falkner of the London School of Economics.

Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, though, he could only give notice three years after it came into force (last Friday). And it would then take a year for the withdrawal to complete.

The US could also simply withdraw from the 1992 climate convention, which underpins the Paris Agreement, which would take a year from notice being given to the UN.

Or, and this is what analysts think would be most likely, he could simply choose to ignore America’s commitment to reducing emissions under the deal.

As the world’s second-largest polluter, the US is responsible for a staggering 13 per cent of the world’s emissions. The loss of its support would be a practical dent in efforts to curb climate change.

But a Trump presidency also means the UN accord losing its most influential champion. Louise van Schaik, a Dutch expert in multilateral negotiations at the Clingendael Institute told AFP: “I see the real danger of Trump being elected as jeopardising the enormous change in the psychology on climate change.”

Last Thursday Khalid Pitts, national political director of the US environmental group the Sierra Club, said in a statement: “World leaders change, but Donald Trump’s total ignorance of science remains the same.

“Electing a climate science conspiracy theorist like Trump would make America a global laughing stock and embarrassment, all while relinquishing our leadership role in the world.

“The ice caps don’t negotiate, and neither do rising seas. Donald Trump’s moral failure to acknowledge the climate crisis might very well mean planetary disaster if he is elected.”

But speaking from the sidelines in Marrakech, one major US lobbyist thinks it won’t be as bad as all that.

Kevin Fay is executive director of the International Climate Change Partnership and a man with a wealth of experience pushing environmental reforms through the top levels of US politics.

He told Climate Home’s Lou Del Bello today: “We’ve gone through this kind of uncertainty [before], when the Reagan administration came into office.

“A lot of people thought that was going to be the end of the world. That turned out not to be, but there was a steep learning curve when they came into office.

“I think we’ve got the same situation now with Trump coming in - he’s going to have to get straight with his own party in Congress."

Mr Fay admitted that when Reagan started, "a lot of mistakes were made". "But ultimately the Montreal Protocol - which Reagan personally authorised - is now the most successful multilateral environment treaty ever adopted.”

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