ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Trumping Climate Change

Environmentalists are justifiably anxious about the future direction of United States policy.

There can be no discussion about climate change without factoring in the position of the United States (US) under its President-elect Donald Trump. Known famously for declaring that the concept of global warming was a “hoax” created “by and for the Chinese in order to make United States manufacturing non-competitive,” the prospect of a Trump presidency has led to serious disquiet amongst those concerned about climate change. These include the countries that signed the Marrakech Action Proclamation for Our Climate and Sustainable Development at the 22nd Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in November. The meeting was held even as the Americans voted in Donald Trump as their next President. His victory did not deter the conference from going ahead with the declaration, nor the US representatives of the outgoing Obama administration from endorsing it. However, it was evident that Trump’s election did cause understandable anxiety about the future of internationally negotiated action plans to curb global warming, of which the Paris Agreement that comes into effect in 2020 is the latest.

In an interaction with editors of the New York Times on 22 November, Trump appeared to have softened his stance on climate change when he stated that he had an “open mind” and would “look closely” at the Paris Agreement. However, too much should not be read into this. Trump’s responses on climate change during the interaction primarily exposed his lack of knowledge about the subject. For instance, he mixed up the need for clean air and preventing climate change, two different issues. And by saying that there may be “some connectivity” between human activity and global warming, his position was no different from climate change deniers who refuse to accept what is now fairly well established by innumerable scientific studies. He also spoke of energy generation using “clean coal,” an unexplained concept. But apart from imprecise, and in some instances inaccurate responses that stem from a lack of engagement and knowledge on a subject that is not as “complex” as Trump said it was, the direction of policy on climate change under Trump has to be assessed from his choice of advisors. For example, leading his transition team of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a known climate change denier, Myron Ebell, who is director of the Center for Energy and Environment of the notoriously conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). Another indication of future policy was Trump’s announcement of what his administration would do in the first 100 days. He said he would “cancel job-killing restrictions on the production of American energy,” thereby creating “millions of high-paying jobs.” This sounds like a direct contradiction of the commitment made by the outgoing Obama administration in its Clean Power Plan of phasing out coal and pushing renewables.

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