Wednesday 12 December 2018

Trump's retrograde climate policy hands China reins in driving a low-carbon future

An aerial view of the Larsen C ice rift in Antarctic, where an expanse of ice roughly the size of
Co Galway is close to breaking off from the warming Antarctic ice shelf to form one of the
world’s largest-ever icebergs, scientists with Project Midas, a Swansea Universtiy Antarctic
research group, said yesterday. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
An aerial view of the Larsen C ice rift in Antarctic, where an expanse of ice roughly the size of Co Galway is close to breaking off from the warming Antarctic ice shelf to form one of the world’s largest-ever icebergs, scientists with Project Midas, a Swansea Universtiy Antarctic research group, said yesterday. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Dr Cara Augustenborg

In November 2016, when Donald Trump was elected as president of the United States, representatives from more than 200 countries were meeting in Marrakesh to discuss the United Nations Climate Agreement.

I was at that 23rd UN Conference of Parties when Mr Trump's victory was announced and I expected everyone to down tools on hearing the news. With the only world leader who denies climate change in charge of the second-largest greenhouse gas-emitting country, it seemed we were doomed to a future of climate chaos.

In fact, Mr Trump's presidential victory had the opposite effect on the UN climate negotiations. The page was already turned on fossil fuels, and countries had no intention of reversing their trajectory towards clean, renewable energy futures. The world was ready to move forward without United States' leadership on climate action.

Mr Trump's policies are undeniably retrograde when it comes to climate and environment. He favours the re-opening of coal mines despite air quality implications and inherent dangers to coal miners themselves; he wants to scrap the Clean Power Plan, the United States' key strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and, just days after Pope Francis presented Mr Trump with the Encyclical on climate change, Mr Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

"Good riddance" was my reaction to Mr Trump's announcement. The Paris Climate Agreement is not legally binding and, based on Mr Trump's policies, he was never going to adhere to its goals or work to achieve the voluntary emissions pledges the US had made. Allowing Mr Trump to participate in discussions on the implementation of the Paris Agreement would obstruct urgently needed progress. Had Mr Trump been at the negotiating table, he would only have made a mess of it.

Mr Trump once tweeted global warming was "a concept created by the Chinese to make US manufacturing non-competitive", but it is his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement that will hand China both political leadership on climate change and a competitive edge in the economic opportunities of the transition to a low-carbon future.

Already, China leads the world in solar panel production, a sector which also experienced exponential job growth in the United States under Barack Obama's presidency. At the UN climate negotiations in Morocco, China was more than willing to take leadership once the United States vacated that role. Ironically, it is Mr Trump's own policies on global warming that will make US manufacturing non-competitive, particularly as Europe strengthens its relationship with China in response to Mr Trump's decision.

Nonetheless, this is a sad day for Americans (including myself), a majority of whom did not elect Mr Trump to represent them. The United States has become the world's climate villain led by a 70-year-old man who cares nothing about climate change because it will not affect him.

Nor is climate change likely to affect Mr Trump's young son because his family's wealth secures him a fortified palace protected from rising seas and the ability to purchase food even when supply is compromised by extreme weather.

While the majority of Americans oppose Mr Trump's extreme agenda, they will be forced to bear the consequences of it because, unlike the Trump dynasty, a majority of Americans lack the means to buy themselves out of the impacts of climate change.

Fortunately, the action required to address climate change happens at the local level and will continue to be implemented by the country's states and cities.

California alone is the sixth largest economy in the world and will maintain its role as a technology forcer within the US energy and transport sectors. Defiant US mayors in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, and New York have publicly stated their intent to abide by the Paris Agreement despite Mr Trump's decision. America will act on climate because it makes no sense for it to be left behind as the rest of the world transitions away from fossil fuels.

One man cannot turn the tide. While Mr Trump's position on climate change may be frightening for those of us who are not privileged enough to protect ourselves and our children from its impacts, the huge opposition generated by Mr Trump's views is an opportunity for the rest of the world (including Americans at large) to unite in our efforts to undertake the next Industrial Revolution for humanity, moving to a fossil fuel-free future regardless of the views of a man who personifies the term "more money than sense".

Irish Independent

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