Why climate change experts fear Donald Trump’s presidency
MARRAKECH, Morocco — He has claimed that climate change is a “hoax” being led by the Chinese and promised to “cancel” the historic Paris Agreement. So it should come as little surprise that there is trepidation surrounding President-elect Donald Trump’s views on what one expert describes as the “biggest future instability” facing the planet.
As the world’s leading experts on climate change meet at COP22 in Marrakech to discuss the future of the planet, some are beginning to fear that Trump could yet derail plans aimed at ensuring the future safety of the global environment.
Trump has been clear in his opposition to the deal struck in Paris last year; he has also been a fierce critic of the Clean Power Plan.
He has said that he would scrap the program which is meant to target existing coal-fired and natural gas power plants, with a goal of reducing greenhouse emissions in the US by as much as 32% by 2030.
His victory has been greeted with dismay by those in the Moroccan capital.
“I hope that his rhetoric doesn’t match his actions,” senior climate change specialist Rasmus Lauridsen, at European Investment Bank, told CNN.
“I’ve read an analysis saying that people take what he says seriously, but not him seriously. Maybe we should do the opposite and disregard what he says.”
One of Trump’s primary targets is the Clean Power Plan which President Obama unveiled to transform the US electricity sector, but is seen by many of its critics as a “war on coal.”
The plan is currently being contested and is expected to go before the Supreme Court in early 2017.
Many of those who oppose the plan in the coal sector have been boosted by Trump’s support for the industry.
At a time where coal production is decreasing and businesses struggling, those who have opposed Obama’s plan have backed Trump into the White House.
But should the plan be overturned, it would represent a huge setback for those pushing the case of tackling climate change.
“Trump’s election has been met here by Americans and the international community with a great deal of concern for what it means for our climate, our environmental quality and the safety and well-being of people around the world,” Mike Burger, executive director at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law told CNN.
“Trump’s campaign position on climate change was that it was a Chinese hoax — an irrational, nonsensical idea, that is also plainly wrong.
“He also made a number of bold statements about his plans to set climate policy back by a decade and to undo all of our domestic and international commitments to climate action.
“Let’s hope that he sees things differently when he is responsible for leading our country, and that these — and so many of his other statements over the last year — were just bluster.”
For Henry Dallal, photographer and author of “Addressing Climate Change”, the election of Trump comes as a bitter blow.
Dallal was at COP21 in Paris last year when President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry both attended, giving “great momentum” to the summit.
“It’s very sad. It’s an absolute shock,” Dallal told CNN.
“I still don’t believe it … I was also told that America cannot withdraw from the Paris agreement.
“The idea of them pulling out sends such a negative message.”
In Paris last year, the world agreed to do everything possible to limit harmful warming to at most 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The agreement, which became international law last Friday, has been ratified by the US, China, India and Brazil — representing between them nearly 70% of the world’s emissions.
According to Lux Research, Trump’s policies would lead to US emissions being 16% higher after two terms of office than they would have been after two terms of Hilary Clinton being in charge.
That would amount to 3.4 billion tons of greater emissions over the next eight years.
“As independent analysts, we don’t endorse candidates, but the data and analysis clearly show that energy policy and the resulting emissions will go in very different directions under Clinton and Trump,” said Lux research analyst Yuan-Sheng Yu.
The US is the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas polluter after China and withdrawing from the Paris Agreement would leave the rest of the world facing a losing battle.
“America has established itself as a leader, if not the leader, in solving some of the biggest environmental problems in the world,” Carter Roberts, president and CEO of the World Wildlife Fund in the US, told CNN.
“It has done so out of the recognition that whatever happens in the world affects it. My biggest concern is that we maintain that leadership position because we know we won’t solve the problem without the US.”
According to the United Nations Environment report published last week, the world is still heading for a temperature rise of 2.9 to 3.4 degrees Celsius this century, even with Paris pledges.
The withdrawal of the US would only serve to exacerbate the problem.
“The biggest source of future instability is climate change,” Roberts added.
“You don’t have to be a scientist to see there’s a connection between climate change, drought, food prices going up, instability in the Middle East and the enormous immigration and refugee pressures which have been created.
“But I fundamentally believe that so many parts of American society are working on this issue that the momentum of their work will continue.”
In Paris last year, Obama promised to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by between 26-28% by 2025 from their levels in 2005.
According to data from the US Environmental Protection Agency, emissions were down 9% in 2014 compared to 2005.
While many experts are wary of Trump’s policies on climate change, there are some who are refusing to give up.
Meteorologist and host of the Our Warm Regards podcast, Eric Holthaus, says he will not abandon hope but adds that he’s not “not naïve enough to think this won’t be bad” for climate change campaigners.
“I think Trump will be a setback for climate change for sure but it’s not game over — but it will be as if the US has no climate policy for four years,” he told CNN.
“I think the most immediate thing is that he has said that the progress made under Obama will be reversed if possible for him to do that.
“But it is clear he won’t follow the commitment the US made to the Paris agreement.”
A Trump spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment.