By Anders Lorenzen
I see myself as a positive person, always searching for the positivity in any given situation. But with Donald Trump’s election to The White House, I find myself searching very hard for those positive elements.
I have never doubted that if the world is to tackle climate change and stay within the so critically important 2 degrees target, then we need the US onboard. That is why I have been so optimistic about overcoming the climate fight ever since Obama took office. And my optimism peaked when Obama in his second term went all in on climate change, doing more than any other US President had done on the issue. And he did not stop there. He continued to treat this issue as an absolutely top priority. And he engaged in foreign relations that would quite likely lead to the implementation of the first global climate treaty The Paris Agreement.
But if President-Elect Donald Trump is going to do as he pledged on the campaign trail, Obama’s climate legacy could vanish in a matter of months. The US, as the historically largest emitter and the current second largest emitter, absolutely need to play a critical role if we are to tackle climate change. Or we would need China and India to seriously up their game, and that scenario is as unrealistic as they come, as those countries will not increase their ambitions unless the US does.
In terms of domestic emissions reductions policy, if the US was to scrap all its targets, this could result in a real increase in CO2 emissions. Nationally this could be devastating, but globally it would be a disaster. The Obama Administration has inserted climate change into almost every single government department, making it a key foreign policy issue and funding low-carbon projects in the developing world. Trump has said he would cancel any funding of UN climate programs, and this alone would be an absolute disaster. And so would be his planned reform of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the architect behind the groundbreaking Clean Power Plan – which for the first time in history saw US coal power plants regulated. Trump is set to appoint a key climate-change denier to reform the agency. Making fossil fuel infrastructure a key investment plan should also worry everybody. His energy team is set to be made up of the most extreme wing of the fossil fuel industry. The famous Keystone XL project, which had been considered a victory for environmentalists is set to be back on the drawing board. Trump would love to approve the project, that is if Canada is still interested. Other pipelines, such as the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, would be fast-tracked. A Trump Administration would also permit more oil drilling on federal land, on previously environmentally protected areas, offshore and in the Arctic. He would also attempt to revive the coal industry.
There is still a lot we don’t know yet, such as what will happen to renewable energy. We know of his hate for wind power. And we know of his belief that solar does not work. But is there any legal way of him banning production? We know that many in the Republican-controlled Congress support renewables. And some optimism should be found in the fact that US leading renewable energy states are in places such as Iowa, Ohio, Kansas and not least Texas which are all Republican states. There will be an important group of Republicans who would wish to protect investment in solar and wind, and that is important.
We should also remember that a lot of US growth in renewables does not only come from national policies but also from state-lead policies. So the states mentioned above, as well as the Democratic renewable energy powerhouses such as California and New York and the New England area, would continue to do well. But in states where there is no political ambition and desire for renewable energy, we’re unlikely to see a change. But the big worry, and where Trump has power, would be for offshore wind energy. The US is only just embarking on their adventure in this area, but licenses approved by Obama could be revoked by Trump.
But a real positive element is that in all the areas where Trump would seek to overturn Obama’s policies there will be a fightback and legal challenges. The Clean Power Plan is already embroiled in a legal battle. It is stuck in the Supreme Court, but the proceedings cannot be resumed before a new judge is appointed following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Unless somehow Obama by pure magic can make an appointment in his last two remaining months in office, Trump would likely appoint one who is conservative-minded and will look in his direction on climate and energy. But the good thing is that it could create further delay, and we should not expect Trump can get away with all his reforms. Many will be stuck in legal battles which can take time. What has served as a setback in Obama’s climate policies can be a benefit here. And it can buy time until the midterm elections in 2018. Normally a sitting President will face a backlash in the midterms, and will at least be expected to lose one of the two houses. If Democrats could mobilise and win back at least the Senate they could cause Congressional gridlock, the same gridlock that prevented Obama from doing more, and this gridlock could benefit the climate fight.
There are many ifs and buts here, and it is a long and distant road we face with many unknowns. And from the outset, it looks disastrous for climate change. But amongst all the dark clouds there is hope, and we must do our utmost to pursue that hope.