Does Donald Trump’s Presidential triumph spell the end of America’s climate progress?

Donald Trump has pulled off one of the biggest electoral shocks in US history, beating Democrat Hillary Clinton to become the 45th US President. edie explores what this could mean for the country's future international leadership on climate action.

The Republican’s victory, which came down to a handful of key ‘swing states’, has already rocked global financial markets, with the US dollar and major European stock indexes – including that of the UK – tumbling within minutes of the revelations.

Some analysts have likened the shock of Trump’s victory to the Brexit result earlier this year due to the uncertainty it will inevitably cause around a number of key global issues, including climate change.

Amidst a plethora of controversial policy pledges and statements on his campaign trail, Trump dismissed climate change as a “hoax”; said he would “cancel” the newly-ratified Paris Agreement, and promised to “save the coal industry”. And to make matters worse for America’s green economy, the new President is now expected to appoint a number of climate sceptics to key positions within his Administration.

Reacting to Trump’s victory today, Friends of the Earth chief executive Craig Bennett said: “The election of President Trump is clearly a major threat to our climate and future well-being of generations to come… It is now more important than ever for individuals, communities, cities, regions and companies to lead the way in building a cleaner, safer future or us all.”

Donald Trump and climate change

A look back at Trump’s Twitter account shows the extent of the real estate tycoon’s climate change scepticism. In 2012, @realDonaldTrump tweeted that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive”.

He has since repeatedly used his social media accounts to label global warming a “hoax”, often because he was posting the updates when the US was experiencing a period of cold weather.

But Trump adamantly denied having made such claims during his first debate against Clinton earlier this year, insisting “I do not say that” after Clinton said: “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it’s real.”

Trump has also pledged to stop all US payments for United Nations global warming programmes if he won. “We will cancel billions in global warming payments to the United Nations, and use that money to support America’s vital environmental infrastructure and natural resources,” Trump told supporters a week before his Presidential victory.

The Democrats, meanwhile, took the opposite tact, with Clinton’s campaign listing “climate change” as a key issue on its website and Clinton herself pointing to recent flooding in Florida as evidence of global warming’s worsening effects.

Donald Trump and the Paris Agreement

In May, former reality TV star Trump vowed to “cancel” the Paris Agreement signed by more than 195 countries – including the US – in December 2015 and officially brought into force last week.

Speaking to supporters in Bismarck, North Dakota, Trump said: “We’re going to rescind all the Obama administration job-destroying action plans, including the Climate Action Plan and the Water of the US rule… We’re going to save the coal industry, these are great people… We’re going to cancel the Paris Agreement and stop all payments of US tax dollars to UN Global warming programmes.”

Technically, no individual country can actually ‘cancel’ the Paris Agreement, and now that it has come into force no country can easily withdraw from the Agreement for at least three years. After that point, signatory nations are able to withdraw from the deal by giving just one year’s notice, meaning that Trump could get the US out of the Agreement before the end of his first four-year Presidential term.

The deal required 55 countries that produce at least 55% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (as of 2015) to ratify it before it could come into force. As of today (9 November), the deal has been ratified or otherwise joined by 103 nations, representing 73% of global emissions. The US, which ratified in September, represents 17.89% of global emissions, meaning that, if the country pulled out of the Agreement today, national commitments would be at 55.11% – just above the 55% emissions threshold.

Nonetheless, a US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement would mean the country is not be bound by any national emissions reduction commitments to help keep global warming under the agreed 2C limit, which could effectively derail the effectiveness of the Agreement given America’s impact on global emissions. It is also feared that, if the US does withdraw from the Agreement, other major nations could be encouraged to weaken their own emission reduction plans.

Commenting on Trump’s Presidential victory, Christian Aid’s international climate lead Mohamed Adow insisted that the global transition to a zero-carbon economy will not be held up by one man.

“Last year’s Paris Agreement showed the world was united in its concern about climate change and its commitment to decarbonising the global economy,” Adow said. “The rest of the world will not risk a global climate catastrophe because of one man’s opposition. 

“Although the US will certainly suffer from any obstruction of efforts to stop climate change, it also risks the lives of millions of the world’s poorest people who have done nothing to cause the problem yet are the most vulnerable to its effects.”

Donald Trump and fossil fuels

As part of his ‘America First Action Plan‘, 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. “I want the Keystone pipeline, but the people of the United States should be given a significant piece of the profits,” Trump said at the time.

During another campaign speech, Trump supporting fracking, claiming that “the shale energy revolution will unleash massive wealth for American workers and families”. But the Republican adopted a position that mirrored that of many Democrats; calling for voters to decide upon hydraulic fracturing at a local level.

On coal, Trump has promised repeatedly throughout his campaign to save the country’s dwindling industry. He is one of few politicians that supports the development of “clean coal” – which involves burning coal as efficiently as possible and then capturing the emissions afterwards. But this concept has been dismissed as fantasy by many energy experts, due to its high cost and technical difficulty.

If Trump follows through with his energy policy pledges, the US could see a significant increase in emissions. Research organisation Lux Research recently concluded that Trump’s energy policy would lead to an extra 3.4 billion tons of CO2 emissions compared with Clinton’s proposals.

Donald Trump and renewables

In September, Trump told an industry audience in Pittsburgh that he would effectively scrap 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 goal of curbing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030.

Whilst Trump did not give any mention of specific renewable energy policy changes during his campaign trail, it is feared that the new President could slow down the pace of renewable energy growth in favour of fossil fuel developments through a withdrawal of subsidy support for new clean energy projects.

But it would be difficult for the Trump Administration to stall the growing number of renewable energy projects that are being rolled out across the country and thrwart what is a rapidly growing, and increasingly popular, sector of the US economy. A recent Pew Research Centre study revealed that 83% of American adults support expanding wind farms, while 89% support solar expansion.

Late last year, Trump had a legal challenge against a planned offshore wind farm on the coast of Scotland rejected by the UK’s Supreme Court. Trump was taking on the Scottish Government, which approved the plan. to construct 11 wind turbines close to Trump’s golfing development on the Aberdeenshire coast. The Trump Organisation said it was an “extremely unfortunate” ruling and it would “continue to fight” the wind farm proposal.

Luke Nicholls

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