By Saleemul Huq *
Feb 8 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh) – Although President Trump has only been in office for less than a month, it is already becoming clear how he intends to carry out implementing his campaign pledges and who he is appointing in his cabinet. It is therefore possible to assess some likely actions and policies on climate change based on his campaign statements and also some of his advisers’ statements and most importantly from his own Twitter statements.
Firstly to remind ourselves that during his campaign he had tweeted that human induced climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. After that he met with former Vice President Al Gore and actor and activist Leonardo de Caprio to discuss the reality of climate change, but it is clear from his numerous executive orders so far, most importantly the ban on travel from seven Muslim majority countries, that he is likely to actually implement the most extreme points of his campaign statements. Thus, the hope by some that coming into the office of the president would stem his rashness have proven to be wrong.
The second point that is becoming clear is that his key advisers in the White House are very strong right wing ideologues, who have an agenda that they want to pursue, an agenda which is extremely anti environment and anti climate change. As long as they call the shots, there is unlikely to be any compromise despite meetings with Al Gore and de Caprio.
Thirdly, there seems to be an interesting tension developing between these key advisers in the White House and the cabinet members; even though they have the same objectives they do not necessarily share the same extreme views on how to implement those objectives.
All the above factors will play themselves out as the Trump administration develops and implements its policies and actions on climate change. Let us now examine them one by one.
It is still not clear what the US under Trump will do regarding the Paris Agreement. He is on record as having said he would withdraw but then his Secretary of State Rex Tillersen, during his confirmation hearings, said that he would prefer that the US stayed in the Paris Agreement. We will see soon which strategy prevails. In any case, the rest of the world has to be prepared to deal with a US administration that is going to be actively hostile to taking any action. So in a way it is better that the US withdraws from the Paris Agreement, thus making it a rogue state as far as climate change is concerned, and allowing the rest of the world to continue to implement the agreement. If the US decides to stay, then it will try to drag everyone backwards and make progress very difficult.
Funding climate change
In the last hours of the Obama administration, the US gave a USD 500 million contribution to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) as its contribution towards the USD 100 billion dollars a year from 2020 onwards promised by the developed countries. It is almost certain that will be the last contribution that the US will make for another four years while Trump is the president. His officials have already started to look at completely de-funding the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as well as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). For the rest of the developed and developing countries, they will need to step up and fill the funding gap left by the US withdrawal. It would be interesting to see if countries like China and India, who are already developing their own climate change funding streams bilaterally, also join the GCF as donors.
The appointment of Scott Pruitt as head of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and the actions already taken to take down climate information from US government websites and the witch hunt of climate change scientists has already put a chill on the scientific community within the Federal Government. This will certainly result in a roll back and reversal of even the modest executive actions that the Obama administration had taken to curb coal pollution.
However, the support for renewable energy that the Obama administration has put in place has already generated so much investment and jobs that reversing it may prove to be quite unpopular, even in states governed by Republican governors. So it will be interesting to see how much the Trump ideologues try to reverse the investments in renewable energy.
Divestment from Fossil fuels
One of the strongest winds that is currently blowing in the global investment community is a divestment from fossil fuel energy companies to renewable energy companies. This is for two reasons. First, because renewable energy is becoming cheaper and more efficient day by day and can now out-compete most fossil fuels. The second is that investors are seeing added risks in fossil fuel companies, especially coal as their reserves will be worthless if they are not allowed to mine it. This risk factor has already made divestment out of coal inevitable and if Trump wants to give the coal miners their jobs back, he will have to invest in the coal mines himself as no other investors is likely to do so.
Thus, Trump is actually going against a strong market driven trend, away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy which will get stronger every year and will be difficult to reverse, even for the US.
Finally, for Bangladesh and other vulnerable countries, the loss of US leadership will be a setback but it does not need to be a debilitating one. We will need to redouble our efforts both at home as well as internationally to implement the Paris Agreement both on its mitigation as well as adaptation goals.
*The writer is Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development , Independent University, Bangladesh.