28 days later: What we know so far about the climate impact of Trump
In the first 28 days since Donald Trump's presidential triumph in the US elections, edie investigates the initial impact of the climate change denier's victory on the global green economy.
It’s been four weeks since the world woke up to the news that Donald Trump had pulled off one of the biggest electoral shocks in US history, beating Democrat Hillary Clinton to become the 45th US President.
President-elect Trump built his campaign on a plethora of controversial policy pledges – including vows to cancel the newly-ratified Paris Agreement and “save the coal industry”.
This is, of course, in direct contrast to the recent positive global climate movement which saw the historic Paris Agreement ratified and enforced within a six-month period.
Technically, Trump cannot “cancel” the Paris Agreement and a US withdrawal from it would take at least four years to actually happen. But with the US sitting high on the list of the world’s largest carbon emitters, pulling out of the Agreement could lead to spiralling emissions, especially when compounded with Trump’s support for ‘clean coal’ and the fossil fuel industry.
Indeed, Trump’s victory has been described by green groups as a “major threat to our climate and future well-being of generations to come”.
But with more than 360 US-based firms and a host of states reaffirming their commitments to combatting climate change in the days and weeks following the electio, it seems that Trump would be swimming against an increasingly strong tide if he was to integrate his ‘America First Action Plan‘.
So what impact – if any – has Trump’s victory had on the green economy so far?
Photo’s with Nigel Farage aside, Trump has largely kept to himself as he weighs up candidates for key cabinet positions. But it cannot be denied that the victory has created a scary sence of uncertainty as to how the former reality TV star will operate once in the White House.
And considering that across the Atlantic, the UK Government has been unable to clear-up any of the equally scary uncertainty surrounding Brexit – other than by confirming that it most definitely “means Brexit” – four weeks is a mere glimpse through the keyhole into Trump’s climate plans.
However, a handful of high-profile meetings and media events have shed some light on the direction that a Trump-driven America is heading. Here at edie, we’ve rounded-up some of the key implications and fallouts for the green economy.
The climate-denying cabinet
There have been murmurs in the media that Trump is slowly but surely softening his beliefs that climate change is a “hoax”. Speaking with the New York Times just days after the dust had settled at the Marrakesh climate conference, Trump claimed that there was “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change, going as far to say that he had an “open mind” to it.
But any hopes that Trump is ready to embrace the low-carbon movement were dashed earlier today (8 December) when Scott Pruitt, attorney general of Oklahoma and a sceptic of climate science, was chosen by Trump as the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Pruitt has been picked at a time when he is part of legal action waged by 28 states against the US Environmental Protection Agence (EPA) to halt the Clean Power Plan, an effort by Barack Obama’s administration to curb greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. Green groups fear that Pruitt’s appoitment into such a key position is a clear sign of the Republicans’ desire to dismantle Obama’s climate legacy.
Meanwhile, incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has claimed that president-elect Trump would adopt a default position on climate change that likened it to a “bunch of bunk”. Trump has previously spoken vocally about rolling back Obama administration climate change policies introduced under the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
While some believe that Trump will now attempt to dismantle the EPA entirely, the Agency’s transition team leader is none other than Myron Ebell – the director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Ebell follows Trump’s climate change-denial mantra and has previously lobbied that the US should avoid taking action to reduce emissions. With Ebell at the helm, we can begin to see a clear path of direction for the EPA, but that direction doesn’t look promising for green business.
However, the EPA is unlikely to be disbanded entirely. Indeed, any introduction to cuts in finance are likely to reduce its capabilities to enforce existing environmental laws, but the Agency has a chequered history of financial reductions but still continues to function. The Trump administration may well make additional cuts, but too many could see opposing public pressure and lawsuits introduced to save the day.
Elsewhere in Trump’s cabinet, Kathleen Hartnett-White is one of the frontrunners for an EPA or Interior Department position. Hartnett-White has already met with Trump and, as a senior fellow at the Koch-backed Texas Public Policy Foundation, she is likely to lobby for fossil fuel support. Again, not great news for the green economy.
The great green policy clash
Trump wants to put fossil fuels front and centre of US energy policy, calling for less regulation and more production. With the US now the world’s biggest producer of natural gas – but still dependent on oil imports – Trump has said he wants the country to be “energy-independent” and to “sell our energy to other places”.
In May, Trump said he would approve the Keystone XL pipeline – a totemic oil project that Trump’s presidential predecessor Barack Obama rejected last year after more than seven years of evaluation. President-elect Trump is also one of few politicians that support the development of clean coal, which attempts to burn coal as efficiently as possible and then capturing the released emissions afterwards. However, this concept has been dismissed as unviable due to the high costs and technical difficulties.
Analysis organisation Lux Research recently concluded that Trump’s energy vision would add an extra 3.4 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere when compared with Clinton’s proposals. Yet, a lot of Trump’s plans revolve around scrapping the $5trn Obama-Clinton Climate Action Plan and the Clean Power Plan – the latter of which was passed in 2014 by the Obama Administration with the overarching goal of curbing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030.
According to recent legal documents from CRS Reports, Trump could effectively rescind much of Obama’s executive actions with the “stroke of a pen”, although the more functional actions – many of which fall under the Clean Action Plan – would require a much more difficult repeal process. For example, the EPA recently issued guidance documents on the emissions control from oil and gas industry – a sector that Trump wants to unshackle from regulation. The president-elect could rescind these actions from day one, but all the documents do is advise the industries, and they would still be subject to the same regulations from agencies of state aid.
In fact, CRS has claimed that it would take many days for Trump to undo Obama’s environmental regulations, which tend to sweep across sectors – such as the Clean Power Plan, the Clean Water Rule, the Cross-States Pollution Rule and the bans on Arctic and Atlantic drilling. “In the absence of specific statutory requirements, it would appear that a new President can generally direct executive branch agencies to revoke existing rules,” CRS states. “In implementing that direction, however, the agency will likely have to engage in the notice and comment process to effectuate the repeal, and, in the case of a challenge to the repeal, provide a “reasoned analysis” for its decision to repeal the rule.”
In truth, a lot of environmental legislation may prove cumbersome to reverse. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases were air pollutants. Trump would therefore have to convince the courts that climate change isn’t having any adverse effects on human health due to this previous ruling.
Trump’s campaign has already highlighted that it would review the “endangerment finding” of 2009, which introduced a plethora of regulations on emissions arising from cars, power stations and natural gas wells. To reverse the findings, Trump’s campaign would have to offer scientific evidence that invalidates mainstream climate science.
With a survey from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs revealing that 71% of 2,061 Americans – including 57% of Republicans – support the Paris Agreement and associated environmental protections, Trump’s rewriting of these regulations would likely by challenged in courts by states and organisations. In 2012, the DC Circuit, which handles legal cases involving the Clean Air Act, rejected similar evidence-based arguments, strengthening the EPA’s belief in mainstream climate change science in the process.
However, Trump could easily rescind regulations aimed at engaging with federal agencies to reduce emissions by 40% by 2025, according to the CRS. The research group also suggests that a 2013 executive to direct the same federal agencies to prepare for climate change impacts could also be undone in day one.
Obama’s last stand
Obama dedicated much of his eight-year presidential term to combating climate change. From 2010 to 2015 alone, the US invested more than $11bn in international clean energy finance. In the aftermath of last month’s election result, the Obama administration has announced a plethora of new, positive actions aimed at future-proofing the low-carbon transition in the US and across the globe.
For example, the Obama Administration is committing $125m in OPIC financing for renewable energy projects in El Salvador and India. It has also unveiled seven innovation challenges, identified by MI member countries, to highlight clean energy areas that can deliver significant decarbonisation.
Meanwhile, the US Agency for International Development, the Department of State and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory have all been encapsulated in a new partnership aimed at identifying clean energy entrepreneurs in developing countries.
The Obama Administration will also provide $4m to eight solar firms under the Power Africa Scaling Off Grid Grand Challenge – a $36 million investment scheme to connect 20 million households in sub-Saharan Africa to clean and affordable electricity.
The White House will also release a report on the market state of access to off-grid energy services and appliances, while also announcing that $11m has been raised in partnership with other governments and development partners to deploy efficient off-grid technologies globally through the Efficiency for Access Coalition.
Nasa’s new purpose
Reports from those close to the Trump camp have suggested that NASA’s budget for monitoring climate change – which has led to some truly revolutionary green innovative concepts – could be slashed and replaced with goals to send humans to the edge of the solar system, and possibly back to the moon.
Bob Walker, who advises Trump on space policy, claims that Nasa has been reduced to “politically correct” environmental monitoring, and is reportedly urging Trump to cut the $1.92bn Earth Science Division fund – which has increased by 50% under Obama.
However, Nasa this week claimed that it has been selected for a “first-of-its-kind Earth science mission” that will propel the US to the front of measuring emissions and vegetation health from space. The Geostationary Carbon Cycle Observatory (GeoCARB) will monitor in “unprecedented detail” natural sources and sinks for carbon to advance understandings of Earth’s natural exchanges of carbon between the land, atmosphere and ocean.
Trump’s incoming message
The president-elect recently outlined a few of his future plans in a video post on YouTube. Trump said he will follow through on plans to lift regulations on the fossil fuel sector in order to create millions of well-paid jobs in the US.
“I will cancel job-killing restrictions on the production of American energy, including shale energy and clean coal, creating many millions of high-paying jobs,” Trump say. “That’s what we want, that’s what we’ve been waiting for.”
Despite a potential carbon price on American exports being talked about globally, Trump has continued his vocal opposition to renewables. Trump may claim to like all forms of energy, but the president-elect has criticised the construction of various onshore wind turbines, claiming that they “kill all the birds”.
“I have a problem with wind,” Trump said. “They kill all the birds. You go to a windmill, you know in California they have the, what is it? The golden eagle? And they’re like, if you shoot a golden eagle, they go to jail for five years and yet they kill them by, they actually have to get permits that they’re only allowed to kill 30 or something in one year. The windmills are devastating to the bird population.”
Trump has previously waged war against wind turbines after planning permission for the 11 turbine development near Trump’s Menie Estate golf resort in Aberdeenshire was granted back in 2013. Trump has been battling the decision ever since.
Despite his now infamous climate change “hoax” remarks, The Trump International hotel and golf links at Doonbeg in Ireland recently saw plans to erect a sea wall withdrawn after stiff environmental opposition. Trump cited rising sea levels as a key reason for the barrier, but it has been opposed due to the threats it poses to a rare breed of snail.
The Inconvenient Truth…
Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, hit the media spotlight recently for her apparent willingness to embrace the threat of climate change, which she may reportedly try to push onto her father.
This led to an unlikely meeting between the president-elect and former vice-president Al Gore – who is well-versed in promoting climate change as a serious threat. Gore travelled to Trump Tower last week to discuss climate change with Ivanka and he even managed to have an “extremely interesting” conversation with Trump during a “sincere search for areas of common ground”.
It has also been reported that Hollywood actor-turned UN climate Ambassador Leonardo DiCaprio has turned to Ivanka to warn Trump of the impact that climate change can cause. DiCaprio co-produced Before The Flood – an eye-opening 90-minute documentary on climate change which features insight from the likes of Obama, Ban ki-Moon, Elon Musk and even the Pope. It has been reported that DiCaprio has passed on a copy of his documentary to Ivanka as she moves ahead with her plans to become an environmental ambassador.
Luke Nicholls & Matt Mace
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