Trump climate change stance threat to all of us

By Kathleen Naday Source:Global Times Published: 2016/11/16 21:53:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Since the shock election of Donald Trump to the US presidency, the media has been filled with reports, some anxious, some trying to be reassuring, on whether he actually meant his campaign promises, and if once he assumes office, he will necessarily have to roll back some of his more outrageous pledges.

While those of us not in the US won't be affected by threats to abolish whole government departments or deport illegal immigrants, his flip-flop on climate change is one that directly threatens all of us, and will do so for generations to come.

Throughout 2016, every month it was reported that the globe was seeing record temperatures. Now the World Meteorological Organization reports that in line with the last three years, 2016 looks set to be the hottest year since modern records began, with a temperature rise of 1.2 C. Sixteen of the 17 hottest years have been this century. Meanwhile, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 continue to rise, with all monitoring stations reporting that they have passed the important threshold of 400 parts per million - and they will not decrease in our lifetimes, nor our children's or grandchildren's. Swift action from China and the US considerably helped with this process.

The Paris Agreement is international law, although countries will not have to start to act on it until 2020. The UN says that the countries cannot back out of the Paris deal for three years after it comes into force, and then there will be further negotiations needed. The fear is that Trump will seek to take other actions which could gut the legislation, and enact other pledges, such as revitalizing the moribund US coal industry and approving controversial oil pipelines such as Keystone.

For the last three years, as temperatures climbed, greenhouse gas emissions have stabilized. This is mostly attributed to a slowing global economy, but also less use of coal in China and the US, and the push for cleaner technologies and renewable energies. But emissions are still rising in India, and we can expect other developing countries with low industrial bases to also increase emissions.

Trump has appointed a leading climate skeptic, Myron Ebell, to head his environment transition team. According to the Washington Post, Ebell is a notorious climate change denier, and his think tank is partly funded by the coal industry. Trump has also said that he would abolish the US Environment Protection Agency and repeal the Clean Power Plan, the linchpin of the US climate reduction blueprint. He has also said he would reduce funding for clean and renewable energy initiatives.

This flies in the face of all global consensus. Leaving aside the issue of climate change, promoting out-dated dirty industries that also have huge costs in clean-up operations and to health will put the US economy as a whole on the back foot in the years to come, as Europe, China and India will prioritize clean energy projects.

This also puts him at odds with many US businesses - where tech entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk are driving the way forward with Tesla cars and his massive energy storage initiatives. States and cities across the US also put forward initiatives of their own when the Bush administration refused to pay much heed to climate change. Multinationals, aware that their business will be affected, are also putting forward climate change policies. Even the Pentagon, hardly a radical organization, is now warning of the destabilizing effects of global climate change and its potential to create conflict and mass refugee movements.

Back in Marrakesh, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday warned Trump of the severe risks of quitting the Paris climate accord, Reuters reported. Both leaders said the agreement was unstoppable and irreversible, and Ban added that as Trump is a business person, he would understand that market forces were moving away from polluting industries in favor of clean technologies.   

This is where international pressure from a range of interest groups, nations and international organizations will be crucial. On Tuesday, China presented its Southern Climate Partnership Incubator at Marrakesh, which will help countries in the global South, particularly in Africa, to meet their Paris obligations. Now it is up to developed countries to also stump up cash, because we need developing countries to follow a new green development path, and not return to an old dirty development path, something that Trump seems to feel is the way forward in the US.

If he is not careful, not only will the US be out of step with the rest of the world community, but it will lose out on investment opportunities and its position, which President Barack Obama fought to regain, of being a global leader in climate change.

It is already too late to stop some of the effects of climate change. Greenhouse gases can stay in the atmosphere for decades, even hundreds of years. We can only hope to limit the damage, and delaying action because of outdated ideology will set the world on an increasingly dangerous path. Climate change is a global problem that needs a coordinated global response, and one man's election agenda should not be allowed to derail it.  

The author is a Global Times editor.

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