Political climate change
As news of Donald Trump’s victory in last November’s US presidential election spread around the world, delegates at the Marrakech Climate Change Conference were meeting to discuss implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement. The man widely credited with playing a pivotal role in securing that landmark deal in the French capital was US President Barack Obama.
“It was a combination of the United States and China that ultimately got that deal through. You had to get 200 countries to go along with this agreement, and the approach the US came up with was the one that was ultimately successful,” said Ken Berlin, CEO of the Climate Reality Project, an environmental NGO based in Washington, DC.
The outgoing president’s commitment to fighting climate change has formed a key part of his domestic agenda and will undoubtedly shape his legacy. According to figures from the White House, Obama’s administration has cut US carbon emissions by 9 per cent since he took office in 2009. In the same period, the US economy grew by more than 10 per cent.
But many Democrat supporters and environmentalists now fear Obama’s work could be torpedoed by his successor. During the presidential campaign, a tweet expressing scepticism over climate change surfaced on Donald Trump’s official Twitter account.
“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive,” Trump tweeted in November 2012.
Recently, the UK’s climate change minister, Nick Hurd, called the US President-elect a “very big challenge” to efforts to control global temperature rises. Senior members of Trump’s team like Jeff Sessions and Ben Carson are also openly sceptical about climate change.
“I know there are a lot of people who say ‘overwhelming science’, but then when you ask them to show the overwhelming science, they never can show it,” Mr Carson, the President-elect’s pick for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2015.
Although fearful about Trump’s future climate change policy, environmentalists say the new administration’s impact on falling carbon emissions in the US could be limited in the short term.
“Overall, if you take into account federal, state and local governments and business, we will still continue to make progress in reducing carbon emissions in the United States. It will be a slower pace than if Hillary Clinton had won, but the environmental community here is gearing up for what might be the fight of our lives,” said Mr Berlin.
Even if Trump does not do what many fear and pull out of the Paris deal immediately, what he does in 2020 could be just as crucial. Under the terms of the Paris climate change deal, countries must set five-year targets or “national determined contributions”. By 2020, the US will need to ramp up its efforts to cut emissions once again in order to meet its commitments.
While Obama has been a leader on climate change policy across the world, a Trump White House could stall the Paris deal in its delicate early years. In the environmental community, the latest US election was billed as a showdown between Hillary Clinton’s green credentials and Donald Trump’s climate scepticism.
Scepticism prevailed in 2016. But environmentalists say the next time US voters go to the polls in 2020 could be the defining moment in the global battle against climate change.