Election 2016

The US’s time as a climate leader may come to a drastic end

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at election night rally in Manhattan

Donald Trump speaking after he clinched the election to become the next US President.  Photo credit: Reuters / Mike Segar / File Photo

By Anders Lorenzen

It really was too good to be true, that in less than a decade the US had transitioned from dragging its feet on action on climate change to a leader. But with the election of Donald Trump as the next US President, this is set to come to a drastic end.

We know that Trump has promised to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement, to cancel the Clean Power Plan and to end any commitments on reducing CO2 emissions. The news of Trump’s election is still fresh, so it is uncertain how this will unfold. What we do know is that while Trump can start the process of exiting the US from the Paris Agreement, the fact is that it has been ratified. This means he can’t legally do that in his first term in office. But if he sticks to his word and does start the process, it will send shockwaves through the global community. And it will serve as a real dent in the hope of tackling climate change.

The climate change community has responded in disgust to the result. But they have shown defiance and said that the economics of clean energy are so powerful that they can’t be undone by any President.

But Benjamin Schreiber, who is the Climate and Energy Director of Friends of the Earth US, didn’t hide how serious the situation is: “Yesterday’s election left all of us in the United States climate movement stunned. Millions of Americans voted for a coal-loving climate-denier willing to condemn people around the globe to poverty, famine and death from climate change. It seems undeniable that the United States will become a rogue state on climate change.Technicalities aside about whether President-elect Trump can remove the U.S. from the Paris agreement, it’s clear that for the next four years, the U.S. government is unlikely to be a partner in global climate action. The U.S. will likely make international climate protection efforts more difficult and that is why the rest of the world can no longer wait for U.S. action. Friends of the Earth U.S. is calling on the world to use economic and diplomatic pressure to compel U.S. leaders to act.”

And the Executive Director of Greenpeace USA,  Annie Leonard, said: “Our hearts go out today to the millions of people who voted against bigotry and hate and have to accept the fact that the man who ridiculed and threatened them for months is now President-elect of the United States. Fear may have won this election, but bravery, hope and perseverance will overcome. Greenpeace and millions of people around the world have all the power we need to combat climate change and create a just world for everyone. Let’s use this moment to re-energize the fight for the climate, and the fight for human rights around the world.”

Donald Trump himself has not wasted any time outlining what he intends to do. He says he would undo all of Obama’s executive orders, and we know many of those centres around climate change. He also said he would lift the Obama-Clinton roadblocks and allow vital energy infrastructure projects, like the Keystone Pipeline, to move forward. And he wants to cancel billions in payments towards U.N. climate change programs, and instead use the money to fix America’s water and environmental infrastructure.

While there is too little detail here, we can be pretty sure this would mean an energy strategy favouring fossil fuels. He has previously stated he wants to revitalise the coal industry, and it is also believed he will at least severely limit the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The only thing that some environmentalists can be pleased about is that he wants to cancel the US’s involvement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP). But that joy might be short-lived depending on what will replace it which might be even worse for the environment.

There is no doubt that the environmental movement and the global community will fight tooth and nail to keep Trump from enacting his plans. And some might even end as legal battles, which could delay the process. But the Clean Power Plan could be cancelled before it even got started.

On clean energy, we still don’t know what this would mean, and how drastic Trump will be in discouraging investment. And as the US has just embarked on an offshore wind industry it is unsure what Trump’s election victory will mean for this going forward.

That the climate and clean energy landscape in the US faces an uncertain time, is something of an understatement.

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