In December last year, on the outskirts of Paris, representatives of 196 countries signed an agreement setting out ambitious goals to limit the increase in the global warming. They also agreed to hold governments to account. What is known as “The Paris agreement” came into effect on 4 November 2016.
The agreement was skilfully drafted in such a way that it would not require the approval of the Congress of the United States of America. If such an approval had been required, it would have been rejected outright by the Republican- dominated Congress. Instead, it was implemented by Presidential decrees thereby making it possible for the USA to join the civilised world in combating global warming and, consequently, climate change.
As from 20 January, in addition to Congress, Republicans will have Donald Trump in the White House. On the basis of Trump’s statements during the Presidential electoral campaign, as well as a result of his nominee dealing with environmental matters in the Presidential transition team, there will most probably be a shutting down of the Environmental Protection Agency and a huge bonfire of environmental regulations in Washington, sometime after January 2017.
Trump holds that climate change is fiction, created by the Chinese in order to ensure that the United States is not competitive as a result of being tied up by agreements and regulations.
While President-elect Trump has pledged to dismantle climate change action programmes, the state of California is exercising significant leadership and embracing the clean energy industry, a magnet for new investment and job creation. Other US states are following in the footsteps of California: Texas and North Carolina are embracing the clean energy industries resulting in massive investments and new job opportunities.
The head of Donald Trump’s environment transition team is Myron Ebell, Director of the Centre of Energy and Environment of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Ebell also chairs the Cooler Heads Coalition, comprising over two dozen non-profit organisations that question global warming. Myron Ebell has been described as “an oil industry mouthpiece” – a description which sums it off in just four words.
The Clean Power Plan, through which President Obama had sought to implement the conclusions of the Paris Agreement, appears to be for the chop. This plan had established the first ever national carbon emission standards for power plants, the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States. The aim was that, by 2030, these emissions would be reduced by 32 per cent from those in 2005 consequently preventing thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of childhood asthma attacks. In addition, it addressed the fuel economy of passenger vehicles, sought commitment of US industry to reduce carbon emissions, boosted clean energy programmes and increased low-carbon investment. It further developed a strategy to reduce methane emissions, partnered with agriculture producers and set aggressive goals for the reduction of the Federal Government’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Going by Trump’s statements all this may be reversed in the coming weeks.
This will undoubtedly have an impact on, and influence decisions to be taken by, other countries and may well end up with the newly emerging economies taking a stronger lead in climate change diplomacy.
The Paris agreement was only the starting point. At Marrakesh in the coming days the international community was planning to improve the Paris agreement by focusing more on the importance of adaptation to climate change, including adaptation finance. However, it is now expected that US financial pledges made by President Obama will not be honoured by the new administration. This will inevitably lead to a derailing of plans aimed at ensuring the safety of the global environment.
Some are still hoping that Trump’s rhetoric will not be translated into action. Unfortunately, the first days of the transition of the new presidency do not give much cause for optimism in this respect.
Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 13 November 2016