11 Nov 2016: Analysis

What a Trump Win Means
For the Global Climate Fight

Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency signals an end to American leadership on international climate policy. With the withdrawal of U.S. support, efforts to implement the Paris agreement and avoid the most devastating consequences of global warming have suffered a huge blow.

by david victor

With the unexpected triumph of Donald Trump, what’s in store for U.S. climate and energy policies? Answering that question is hard since Trump has never run a public institution and thus has no track record. His most cited comment about global warming — that it was a Chinese hoax invented to destroy American jobs — came in November 2012 from a 19-word tweet, hardly the medium for reasoned policy analysis. He promises to pump more oil and gas, restore the coal industry, and roll back regulations, but those claims are not rooted in any plan for how to achieve them. In my lifetime, no one has ever become president after having said so little about what they would actually do with the reins of power.

With so little to guide predictions, the reality of a Trump presidency has become a national Rorschach test.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Donald Trump on election night in New York City.
Conservatives and the anti-establishment imagine an ascendant Trump will set a path for a more competitive national economy, smaller government, and a stronger defense. The left predicts a horror show of policy reversals and seediness. This Rorschach test is now playing out as the country grapples with what all this means for climate and energy.

One thing is clear: The Trump administration will inflict more harm on global cooperation around climate than any prior president. After the successful Paris agreement last year, that cooperation was finally poised to make progress with decisive U.S. leadership. I doubt that a Trump presidency will kill the Paris process — too many other countries are too invested in its success. But it will shift the intellectual and political leadership of the process from the United States to other countries, most notably China.

Domestic policy is much harder to parse. Don't expect any climate change initiatives by a Trump administration, which means that efforts started under Obama to understand and prepare for the impacts of climate change will be put on hold — to the country’s detriment. But on emissions, national policy is almost synonymous with energy policy, since most warming emissions come from the energy sector. Trump won’t adopt any new policies to control emissions, but a huge effort already is under way. Despite claims of trashing regulations, rolling back the Clean Power Plan, and a big shift toward fossil fuels, four years of Trump will actually have very little impact on national energy investment patterns and policy that are already largely grounded. That’s because the energy sector is slow to change, most policies are enshrined in law and difficult to unseat, and the very thought of a Trump administration overseeing national energy policy will inevitably shift more of the action to the states.

For people who want to see America engaged in serious global cooperation and a continued decarbonization of the U.S. energy system, the likely chaos of the Trump administration — as it moves from the bombast of campaign yelling and tweeting to the much harder task of running a government — will require new political strategies. Activists and politicians who care about climate issues should alter their thinking to making those new strategies a reality. They need to focus on how to offset the harmful effects of Trump on global diplomacy — something that is possible, to some degree. And they need to gear up for policy action in the states (and defenses of existing policies through the courts). A Trump presidency will cause huge anguish for environmentalists and offer a powerful symbol for raising money and political opposition, but sharp thinking is needed to make sure that opposition is actually effective in protecting the planet.

The most immediate effect of Trump’s rise will be in how the United States works with other countries. Climate change is a global problem:
Literally overnight, the U.S. role in the process of implementing the Paris agreement has changed.
The U.S. accounts for only 16 percent of total annual emissions and thus the only way to affect the global picture is through leadership and cooperation. Paris worked where other efforts, such as the Kyoto Protocol, largely failed because it adopted a more flexible, “bottom up” approach to governance that the U.S. had been advocating for years. This flexible approach made it possible to get more countries engaged and set the stage for a truly global effort to cut emissions.

Literally overnight, the U.S. role in this process has changed. Foreign nations may have overreacted to Trump’s tweet about a Chinese hoax in global warming, but clearly the Trump team is hostile to climate policy, a point confirmed by selecting the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell (a deep skeptic of climate science and an even starker critic of most environmental policy) as head of the team overseeing the Trump transition at the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump has stated he will “cancel” the Paris agreement, which is not something he himself can actually do. A Trump administration could withdraw from Paris or even from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (the parent of the Paris agreement), both processes that can unfold fairly quickly (1-3 years). But unlike earlier administrations — such as George W Bush’s, which abandoned the Kyoto Protocol before the U.S. tried to ratify the agreement, or George H.W. Bush’s, which never submitted the Convention on Biological Diversity for U.S. ratification — the Trump administration will soon find that it is very difficult and diplomatically costly to abandon existing treaty commitments. This is unlikely to be a high priority for a newly elected president who devoted virtually zero attention to climate policy during the campaign. All the drama created by Trump’s statements will be fodder for dramatic UN floor speeches, and some are already being delivered in Marrakech. But by themselves they won’t amount to much real impact on climate diplomacy.

The most harmful impacts of the Trump presidency on climate cooperation will come in two other ways. First is funding. In Paris, nations reconfirmed a pledge to provide $100 billion in new money to help developing countries engage with climate policy, with a large fraction earmarked for the least developed countries that are the most exposed to the harms of unchecked warming. Nobody really knows what counts as new money, but as a sign of good faith, the developed nations put up $10 billion to get started — one-third from the U.S., and one-third from China. America has not yet paid all of its commitment, and it seems clear that Trump will not. For the developing countries, this will be a sign that America is unreliable and that the benefits of staying engaged in climate negotiations are fleeting. While these countries are generally not large greenhouse gas emitters, having their support is essential to making formal decisions — including adoption of the Paris agreement.

The other big harm that Trump will cause almost immediately to the Paris process will come when the U.S. no longer leads in the long, difficult process of putting the accord into effect. The Paris agreement is what’s known as “pledge and review.” Countries make pledges to cut emissions and adopt various policies, and then every few years those efforts are reviewed. Success hinges on review, and until Tuesday it was assumed that the U.S. would help show the world how good review systems actually work. Indeed, the U.S., along with China, had already done that in volunteering itself for peer review of its fossil fuel subsidy reform policies.
If the U.S. eliminates its leadership role on climate, that leaves China to steer the ship.
Without leadership, the review process will probably follow narrow and bureaucratic UN rules, which are the only rules countries can agree upon right now, so formal review will be impotent.

The ability to get countries to cut emissions will suffer as the fragile coalition that created Paris splinters and as the process loses its biggest champion for turning the promise of the Paris agreement into a functioning diplomatic machinery. My guess is that this won’t kill the Paris process, but it will severely weaken it.

The most interesting impact of all this may be on China. For the last few years, the U.S. and China played a central role in building the Paris regime through their “G2” bilateral efforts on energy innovation and joint announcements of emission cutting goals and policies. That approach of country-tailored commitments is enshrined in the pledge and review process that helped make Paris a success [As I wrote last December on these pages. ] The Chinese have favored this approach for its flexibility, and while the G2 relationship may quickly die (or go into hibernation) under Trump, China’s commitment to this approach won’t. If the U.S. leaves Paris and eliminates its leadership role, that leaves China to steer the ship.

On the U.S. domestic front, the Trump campaign and its policy websites suggest there will be a big rollback of regulation — in particular, rules that have a disproportionate impact on small business. But most of what really matters in current federal administrative law on energy and the environment requires notification and review and is not easily reversed.

The acid test for regulatory rollback will be the recently completed Clean Power Plan. The president, no matter how hostile his administration might be to such actions, can’t easily nullify them, though the courts might do that job for him. Fully unraveling the plan’s effects will take many years and may be impossible to completely achieve because many compliance efforts are already underway in industry. There are also other state and federal policies that reinforce the plan. So the scenarios that see Trump soon making America smoggy again may not play out in the real world.

Uncertainties abound over what a future Trump administration may look like on energy and climate policy. Yet as the shock of his victory wears off, it will be essential to look realistically at what he can and can’t do.

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In foreign policy, he has huge leverage, and he could cause a lot of harm to the progress already made. Friends of climate change diplomacy should gear up to help explain to the world that not all of the Trumpian bluster will be followed by reality. Senior diplomats out of power — along with leaders of NGOs and of firms that have a stake in effective global strategies — should help reassure the world that America has not abandoned its climate commitments forever. It is also crucial to look for places where the gaps created as Trump abandons or weakens climate change diplomacy might be filled in — on the review process, for example, academics and NGOs have already built much of the capacity that will be needed to demonstrate effective review. They should seek allies in those governments that remain committed to Paris — whether in Europe or India or China — to keep the diplomatic ship afloat even as its traditional captain leaves the scene for now.

POSTED ON 11 Nov 2016 IN Biodiversity Climate Climate Energy Policy & Politics Policy & Politics Antarctica and the Arctic North America North America 

COMMENTS


How can we encourage President Obama, Sec. Kerry,
and Sec. Clinton to take on climate leadership roles
as private--and still greatly influential--global
citizens?
Posted by Maribel Andonian on 11 Nov 2016


The United States can back off climate change
mitigation under President Trump, but that's not
likely to slow down any of our international
competitors who see vast commercial potential in
low-carbon technologies. I'm thinking wind, solar,
geothermal, small hydro, fuel cells and more, and
I'm specifically thinking about China and Korea,
who have made it their national mission to
dominate these industries globally.

We might get a little bump in the short run, but
our companies will either be less competitive in
the long run, or they will manufacture those
products in those more-friendly countries and
export them to us here.
Posted by Ski Milburn on 11 Nov 2016


Thanks for the insights, David. I particularly agree
with the suggestion that the budget process is a
likely route for some of “the most harmful impacts”
and your repeated observations that China will
replace the US as an international leader.
Posted by Tom Brewer on 11 Nov 2016


If President Elect Donald Trump adheres to his anti climate change position that would leave the two most critical countries China and India to continue their pollution control and climate change mitigation efforts on their own. This is not a bad thing actually as they are already committed to Climate Change Mitigation measures. They don't need permission from a US President to adhere to their Climate Change Mitigation agenda. Thank Goodness for freedom of choice in their own internal affairs.
Posted by Jessee McBroom on 11 Nov 2016


It's delusional to believe a President who has
majorities in the Senate and House can't stop or
reverse any regulation they want. The EPA follows
what Congress tells it to do. Period. End of story.
What the left needs to avoid is Congress passing a
law that directs the EPA to not oversee carbon
emissions. That will end the EPA's role in carbon until
such a time as the left regains all 3 sectors of
Government, likely 10 years or more. If they want to
avoid this they better be willing to absorb some pain.
Posted by Tom Scharf on 11 Nov 2016


It would be great if we had the support of Government and good environmental policy to help with climate change, but that has always been just one piece of the puzzle. The other piece is individual actions. This elections just shifts more of the burden and responsibility on our individual actions. The good news is we have a lot of technology out there to help us and it is getting more and more affordable. I hope this election will spur people to take advantage of this and not wait for Government to solve the problem.
Posted by Christopher Pratt on 12 Nov 2016


People suddenly wake up when they here the name Donald Trump. Have they been sleeping before ?

They for sure have been dreaming because the Obama administration has been doing nothing. Only lips and mouth work, handshaking, a little bit of signature on official papers that will be stored i basement... and off course a hell lot of flying and carbon emitting.

Obama is here to untertain the crowd while business as usual is doing business as usual: fracking, piping, flying, driving, consumming, monoculture farming...

Obama hade a dream, he admits it in Di Caprio films: a cheap, endless ecological source of energy, the condition to push the world toward transition.

Trump does not believe in it and he might be the more scientific sound ot the two. First because energy is disruption, there is no free energy. Capturing diffuse sun energy will be costly in term of material, mining, infrastructure shift...

No one knows how to build renewable without oil and coal to run trucks, electrictity facilities, to mine, to purify, to assemble, to ship, to maintain, to clean. Data are still unclear but shifting in such a scale will increase industrial activity and mining. There will be no curbing of pollution globally, because industrial activity cannot be non disruptive for ecosystemes. Simple facts.

Besides the Jevon paradox tells us that once an energy is produced on a large scale, it is used on a large scale. Population will increase, consumption will increase because it is now a so called right to have the wonderfull fruits of industrialism (mobility to see the same houses and parking lots at the other end of the nation or the earth, industrial fatty sugary food for everyone, plastic for everyone, blue light that keeps you awake like a tweaker at night flr everyone and so on).

The only way that is realistic to avert the 6 degrees that are in the pipe according to the latest science advances paper, is to drastically curb the number of people parasiting the agricultural food system and requiring more pesticide machine and monoculure to feed employee computer scientist and so forth, that live on the current ecocide (and probably do not really like their jobs but are scared to death by the prospect of being unemployed or losing their social status).

We need to live like amish do, or even further, to respect ecosystems. This is what we have to strive for: diminished mobility, bikes and horses, may be boats, litlle or no electricity, may be a tenth of what we consume today at first.
Localize production of food and item.
I reuse 100 \% of my waste. Pee is gold for my vegetable, shit come back to the woods, so does ashes from my stove.
We will have to burn wood, even to cook, in small farms of 2 or 3 families, repair our tools, forge, be our own carpenter, like our ancestors did.

There is no weed in an ecological system, no pests: weeds goes to the rabbit that feed us, or for the very few that are toxic (rare because eliminated manually), used as cover. snails are a delicacy for human, slugs a delicacy for ducks...

This is the only managed ecosystem that can be closed by human and sustain us, it requires a massive move to the land and a lot of practice.

The rest is not going to last very long, wether coal or "renewable".

Mass production of industrial good, to fly the planet or feed desktop employee is a total heresy.
As sick as it would be to fly 9 bilion people to the moon, it just take more time. But self destruction is unavoidable.

Neither Trump nor Obama fans like this message.
We will have to fight both if we want to prepare the way for future generation. That will be tough because they will be both arsh and will try to seize every piece of the ecosystem to live up to their prestigious "progressive" dream.





Posted by kervennic on 12 Nov 2016


I am an Environmental scientist from Kenya and coming from a developing part of the globe, the presidency of Mr Trump feels like giving a newly trained driver for a road test. This means that the President need close monitoring and advice by a strong team of experts.
I feel not much threatened by the anticipation of adverse policies from the coming reign as much has been accomplished bt the previous leadership. The speed of global climate change may not change due to an expected retarded policy there.
USA produces less than a fifth of the greenhouse gasses therefore its a global fight not a ONE superpower fight
Posted by Mr Martin Mwangi on 13 Nov 2016


There is another risk from a Trump presidency,
huge budget cuts for NASA, NOAA and other
research institutions that play a vital and global
role in climate research. NASA missions like
GRACE provide data for the scientific community
all over the world in providing data on changes in
Antarctica and Greenland.

If Trump cuts the budget for these missions, the
consequences can be huge for decades of climate
research and monitoring.

Erik de Haan (The Netherlands, living below sea
level and involved in climate adaptation)
Posted by Erik De Haan on 13 Nov 2016


Dems - DEMS! - and eco-radicals, except James
Hanson, walked AWAY from WA states Carbon tax.

A VAT consumption tax is the only way to change
the "Jevon paradox"

As a right winger who supports a carbon tax and
20\% VAT that repeals the income tax, You guys
have only yourself to blame.

Get your act together or find another cause!
Posted by jxxx mxxx on 14 Nov 2016


In its current immature and primitive state, the field of climatology is pseudoscience.

Those who hijacked science and politicized the field in an attempt to achieve political goals they would not have otherwise been able to attain are about to reap what they have sown.

Censorship is not science.
Correlation is not causation.
Propaganda is not science.

Posted by John Garrett on 14 Nov 2016


I live in Tompkins co in upstate ny. We are working to create a sustainable agricultural economy through small organic farms food production, coop stores and csa s. We have a thriving solar businesses with more small scale installation and some bigger ones going up every day. When fracking threatened our lakes and way of life here we organized ourselves and brought science and reason to the fight. We convinced our governor and his administration and he agreed that hydrofracking was a bad idea. We must , as dedicated citizens participating in the largest democratic country on earth,agree that we need to dedicate our lives to creating a safe and sustainable future for our kids and that it is possible to do this. If we live in fear and ignorance we will reap chaos and violence toward ourselves and our planet. Lets get to work.
Posted by dan burgevin, artist on 17 Nov 2016


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david victorABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Victor is a professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California at San Diego and chairman of the Global Agenda Council on Governance for Sustainability at the World Economic Forum. He is also co-chair of the Brookings Initiative on Energy & Climate. Victor is author of Global Warming Gridlock and numerous essays on climate cooperation.
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