Trump and Clinton: the stage is set for America’s climate aspirations

As the UK's commitment to battling climate change takes a departmental twist, the two US presidential candidates are leading campaigns that sit on very different ends of the climate policy scale.

The past few weeks in the UK has seen a seismic shift in the future trajectory of the low-carbon transition, as a balanced debate on leaving the European Union culminated in the abolishment of Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC).

Over in the US, things still remain in the balance – albeit with the potential to follow a similarly drastic route. Months of campaigning has seen a plethora of candidates chiselled down to two front runners, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Regardless of who wins the election, the global environment is acting as an enabler for the low-carbon movement. Alongside the Paris Agreement – which the US and China are close to ratifying – A business led initiative in San Francisco paved the way for the private sector to “climate-proof” its operations.

During the Paris climate talks, 640 Mayors gathered to announce plans for cities to deliver annual a combined annual reduction of 3.7 gigatons in emissions by 2030.

American cities are already engaging with these targets as the cities of San Francisco and San Diego have both gained approvals for climate action plans that will see emissions halved over the next 20 years.

While Obama has been backing these pledges with financial incentives – a factor that would likely change depending on the outcome of the election – cities and regional authorities are taking the low-carbon movement into account.

On Wednesday (13 July), Salt Lake City added itself to list of enabling cities by committing to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2032 and reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2040.

But even amidst this movement there is still cause for concern. Environmental wrangling still dictates conversations over the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, while Obama has also come under fire for his proposed “double standards” during a climate-related visit to Alaska. New research this week has also revealed that the US is discarding half of the food it produces and imports.

American dreams or nightmares?

All of this paints the picture of an economic, fossil fuel-guzzling powerhouse that is at a crossroads as to what direction it will take in the aftermath of the election – with the two frontrunners having very different opinions on where this journey should be headed.

Trump is a larger-than-life figure who appears rather dismissive of climate change, going so far as pledging to cancel the Paris Agreement if elected. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is Hillary Clinton, who after overcoming concerns on fracking deals with fossil fuel companies, looks set to follow on from the climate-related efforts from Barack Obama if elected.

For Clinton, an election win would be aided by one of the most aggressive climate platforms established. Democratic party leaders have drafted a new climate platform that puts a price on carbon, implements stronger fracking regulations and gives priority to renewable energy. It was established to help garner votes in climate-concerned swing states such as Colorado, Florida and Virginia.

Clinton’s climate agenda received a timely boost this week after ex-opposition Bernie Sanders officially endorsed her for president.

“This election is about climate change,” Sanders said. “The greatest environmental crisis facing our planet, and the need to leave this world in a way that is healthy and habitable for our kids and future generations.

“Hillary Clinton understands that we must work with countries around the world in transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy — and that when we do that we can create a whole lot of good paying jobs.

“Donald Trump…like most Republicans, chooses to reject science — something no presidential candidate should do. He believes that climate change is a hoax. In fact, he wants to expand the use of fossil fuel. That would be a disaster for our country and our planet.”

According to a Sierra Club report released earlier this week, if elected, Donald Trump would be the only head of state in the world to contend that climate change is a hoax. Using Sanders’ presumptions, a US led by Trump is unlikely to remove itself as the world’s second largest carbon emitter. In fact, with China’s – the world’s largest emitter – President Xi Jinping overseeing massive movements to clean up the country’s energy mix, the US is in danger of taking the unenviable top spot.

There is a danger of the US election following a similar path of the EU referendum whereby concerns over immigration and income dwarf the importance of the environment. The stage is set for the two candidates to act on these policies, but the voice of green business needs to be the one that shouts loudest.

Matt Mace

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