Can Trump Stall Climate Action?

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The Hindu, Marrakech, Morocco

As news of Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential poll came, delegations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference (COP22) underway in Marrakech considered the prospect that America might pull out of the Paris Agreement leading to its collapse.

Trump’s presidency could freeze progress on the climate pact that entered into force on November 4, reviving the experience with the Kyoto Protocol, which did not make significant progress after the US Senate did not ratify it.

The U.S. could also ignore its voluntary climate action commitments – Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) - under the Paris Agreement and cut funding for climate finance.

French Environment Minister Ségolène Royal told The Hindu on Friday that just because the American President-elect had talked of pulling out the hard-won deal, the Paris Agreement will not fall apart.

“Discussions on guidelines for transparency, rules for what countries have to report on, and how to implement various adaptation provisions at the high-level negotiations in Marrakech from November 15 could bind America to its Nationally Determined Contributions, making it difficult for them to pull out of the treaty,” she said. Ms. Royal, who was at the forefront of negotiations on the Paris Agreement last year, also said Trump’s comments during the campaign may not finally reflect in his actions as President as realpolitik could compel him on climate action.

Domestic advantages

Jonathan Pershing, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, denied the likelihood of his country withdrawing from the Paris Agreement at a pre-COP22 briefing session earlier this month. He said because of domestic advantages in staying in the agreement and continuing with pledges, U.S. may not exercise the provisions for withdrawal in Article 28 of the Agreement.

Mr. Pershing also said investment opportunities provided by the Agreement in renewables were significant and it would be in America’s own interest to continue its engagement. Domestic circumstances such as flooding in Florida, superstorm Sandy, flooding of New York subways and drought in the American Southwest as real consequences of climate change, required the US to continue with its promise. On a Kyoto Protocol-like situation, he said unlike Protocol, the Paris Agreement was not a top-down international treaty and had been negotiated based on voluntary commitments of signatory nations.

At a facilitative dialogue on pre-2020 climate action in Marrakech, a senior member of the U.S. delegation Christo Artusio said US climate action had acquired a momentum of it own, with significant progress in the renewable energy sector. The US delegation official representing the Obama administration said no President could change that now.

If America under Trump did pull out of the Paris pact, it would aid China’s rise. A senior member of the Chinese delegation at Marrakech, Chen Zhihua, said his country would continue to honour its commitment.

What Trump could do

As US President, it will be well within Trump’s powers to initiate the process to withdraw from the Paris treaty four years from now. He could slash federal support for climate programmes in the States and disable U.S. Environmental Protection Agency enforcement of climate and environment-friendly regulations. He could scrap the Clean Power Plan that addresses carbon emissions from power plants. But such actions would not be without their share of local resistance and adverse national and international consequences. Also, the U.S. federal government is not the sole actor on climate.

David Waskow, director of the World Resources Institute’s International Climate Initiative said 34 big American companies including Wal-Mart had committed to ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. Also, 129 American cities had put forward strategies to curb emissions, manage the risk of climate change and measure the impacts. Earlier this year 17 U.S.State governors, Democrats and Republicans, had joined the Governor’s Accord for a New Energy Future.

Steve Herz, senior international policy advisor, Sierra Club, an environmental NGO, observed that even if Mr. Trump rejected the Clean Power Plan, an energy transformation was underway and the share of renewable energy was growing in the US.

Pre-2020 action

While a US slow down under Mr. Trump could adversely impact the Paris accord, experts say that pre-2020 action is vital. The UNEP Emissions Gap 2016 report points out that the Paris commitments are insufficient to stop dangerous global warming. The Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol - which covers climate change mitigation in the pre-2020 period - is critical target of containing global temperature rise well below 2°C target.

Given that the U.S. is not a party to the Kyoto Protocol, this process remains in the hands of other developed countries. So far, only 73 nations have ratified the Doha Amendment, though 144 countries are required for it to enter into force. The Marrakech climate summit is organising a facilitative dialogue for ratifying the Doha Amendment this week.