On November 9th, 2016 we woke up here in Marrakech as most of our American friends/family were sleeping (or maybe laying awake unable to sleep). As each one of us made our way downstairs, we thought Sachi was joking when she shared the election news – having to confirm via Google for ourselves (much to her frustration). We were all pretty shocked, sad, angry, and a little embarrassed as we prepped to head off on our third day here at COP 22. We had an unusually long breakfast to collect our thoughts and discuss our initial reactions, and in doing so two main questions circulated our minds:
- What can Trump actually do to affect climate policy and the legitimacy of the Paris Agreement?
- What does the international climate community think?
In this post, we’re going to try to tackle question one.
Simply put, Trump is a climate denier.
^ Real-life tweet from Trump’s feed, people.
What’s on our minds specifically is Trump’s statement that he will ‘cancel’ the Paris Agreement and cut funding to the UN. We had all heard this back in May when he first declared it, but now that his election is a reality we paused to think:
Wait, what can he actually do?
Here’s our attempt to separate out the answer.
Trump has claimed that the Paris Agreement gives other countries control over America’s energy & climate decisions. This is just straight up not true. Under the agreement, each country develops its own climate strategy and pledges for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The US has already released their plan under the Obama Administration (as did over 150 other countries). This idea of holding countries to individual, self-determined pledges, rather than an international standard, is actually what the US pushed for at COP21 because we can be easier on ourselves than the international community wants us to be. It’s worth noting that the US’s plan is only 5 pages, while many African country plans are well over 30… hmmm….
That being said, Trump also can’t “cancel” the Paris Agreement, it is under force and endorsed by over 190 world leaders. He could theoretically pull the US out, but the agreement includes a four-year withdrawal process for any country that wants to leave it. In fact, it’s believed the Paris Agreement went into force over a month earlier than expected to safeguard from the US election.
THE CATCH: The Paris Agreement commitments we have made are not binding, so the US could just refuse to not carry out its emissions reductions, while still being a part of the Paris Agreement.
In sum, we know that it is possible that Trump’s presidency, along with a conservative Congress, will be a barrier to federal policy on reducing carbon emissions. But the future isn’t quite as dark as it seems. Market forces have been a major player in the transition away from dirty coal, and federal inaction does not prevent cities, businesses, and states from continuing climate action, including California, New York, and Oregon’s recent commitments to obtain 50% of state electricity supply from renewable energy.
It definitely is difficult to sit through our sessions knowing that the US may not be the international climate policy leader we saw hope for on the horizon, but we are gaining a greater perspective on the international community’s response to this election, their positivity, and very real world-wide consequences of pending US inaction …more on that coming SOON in Part 2.
“Climate change is not an environmental issue alone, it is fundamentally social, about the economy and human rights.”
– Tasneem Essop, National Planning Commission, South Africa during the ‘No Jobs on a Dead Planet’ panel
Sincere thanks to Ember McCoy in taking a first cut at addressing this question, which is at the forefront of many of our minds within Climate Blue and likely for you, our readers, as well. We ask that if you have any follow-on questions about what this election means to the future of climate policy in the US and abroad to please post in the comment section below. More than anything, this is a good time for us to engage each other in an open conversation.