By promising to back out of the Paris Agreement, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is poised to walk away from decades of negotiations, setting global climate change progress back a number of years.
“We’re going to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to UN global warming programs,” said Trump while campaigning earlier this year.
Should Trump accomplish what he’s promised to do during his campaign, experts fear the world may not recover in time to avoid many of the most dire consequences of climate change, such as rising sea levels, droughts, food shortages and extreme storms.
Trump has called climate change a “hoax” and a “Chinese conspiracy” to undermine the United States’ manufacturing capacity. Additionally, he plans to do away with President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a series of carbon emission regulations and incentives for green energy.
These were not just Trump’s views while campaigning. His actions since winning the presidential election seem to suggest he sincerely believes the U.S. should not make any economic concessions in trying to combat climate change, denies that humans have had a significant impact on it.
Trump has designated Myron Ebell as head of the transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency. Ebell is famous for denying the scientific consensus on climate change, instead arguing climate change is merely an excuse to expand government.
“We believed that the so-called global warming consensus was not based on science, but was a political consensus which included a number of scientists,” said Ebell in an interview with PBS.
This “number of scientists” mentioned by Ebell includes at least 90 per cent of climate scientists. Additionally, Ebell works for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which receives a portion of its funding from coal companies.
He is now in charge of picking people to lead the government agencies designed to address climate change.
Nearly 200 countries signed on to the Paris Agreement, which is aimed at limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
“If Trump steps back from that, it makes it much less likely that the world will ever meet the target, and essentially ensures we will head into the danger zone,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs at Princeton University and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which reports on the state of climate science.
While as president, Trump cannot stop other countries from following the prescriptions of the agreement, he can ensure the U.S., the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, ignores it.
This would make it considerably harder for the world to limit the global temperature increase to less than two degrees Celsius, after which experts believe the planet will face irreversible and extremely dangerous warming.
“That target is already extremely difficult to achieve, but it could be done with very hard, very diligent work by every country,” said Oppenheimer.
An analysis by Climate Interactive, a scientific think tank focused on climate change that informs many governments around the world, said Obama’s plans account for nearly 20 per cent of the Paris Agreement’s expected reductions. Without their contribution, the rest of the world will find it extremely difficult to hit the target.
2016 is set to be the hottest year on record, easily passing the previous records set in 2015 and 2014.
“With Mr. Trump in the Oval Office and Republican majorities in both houses,” wrote John Sterman, a professor of system dynamics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a recent Climate Interactive analysis. “There is little hope that the Clean Power Plan will survive in the Supreme Court or for federal action to meet the U.S. commitment under the Paris accord. Worse, other key emitter nations — especially India — now have little reason to follow through on their Paris pledges: If the U.S. won’t, why should developing nations cut their emissions?”