POLITICS

Trump, The Climate Change Denier, Could Be A Disaster Not Just For America But For Planet Earth

"Very, very pure sweet, beautiful oil."

11/11/2016 6:47 PM IST | Updated 11/11/2016 6:54 PM IST
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Ghoramara island, 150 km south of Kolkata, has lost 50 percent of its terrain to the rising seas as a result of climate change.

The Independent reported on Thursday that Donald Trump's statement on banning Muslims from entering the United States was removed from the the President-Elect's website. Slate called it "a whitewash of some of the more repugnant parts of his campaign." Others too have wondered whether his bark as a campaigner might have been worse than his bite as the so called leader of the free world.

Also missing from Trump's website are his repugnant promises to "cancel" the Paris Agreement within 100 days of taking office, to "rescind" Obama's Climate Action Plan and to stop climate funding.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be scared -- very scared. The eccentric billionaire has described petroleum as "very, very pure sweet, beautiful oil" and labelled Climate Change as a Chinese hoax.

This is bad news considering that we're almost out of time to contain the irreversible environmental damage of global warming. The year 2016 is locked into becoming the hottest on record. Scientists are saying that we are looking down the barrel of mass extinctions, millions of climate change refugees, cataclysmic weather events, drought, flooding and human conflict.

In December 2015, almost 200 countries committed to curbing CO2 emissions in order to stop global temperature from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius, and to try and possibly limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

"Too Early To Say..."

Even as officials from around the world have gathered in Marrakesh to discuss the implementation of the Paris Agreement over the next ten days, Trump has appointed well-known climate change skeptic Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, to implement his transition plans for the Environment Protection Agency, the leading environmental body in the US. Ebell has previously said that Obama joining the Paris climate treaty was "clearly an unconstitutional usurpation of the Senate's authority."

Experts and activists attending the U.N. Climate Change meeting in Marrakesh said that Trump becoming president has given them a reason to worry, but that there was no sense of despair yet.

"It is too early to say whether the pre-election rhetoric will be turned into a reality. The new federal government must recognise that it cannot operate in a bubble and the climate impacts have already been affecting people in USA as well as rest of the world," Harjeet Singh, Global Lead on Climate Change for Action Aid, told HuffPost India.

There are questions and questions at this point: Will Trump actually undo all the painstaking work done to reach an international agreement on climate change? How will other countries react if the US fails to honour its commitments? And, does one man really have the power to push the planet over the precipice?

"The Paris Agreement is relatively secure but the geo political uncertainty obviously has a big impact on the implementation and raising the inadequate ambition," said Siddharth Pathak, head of political advocacy at the Climate Action Network.

Experts are divided on how other countries will react to the U.S. dishonouring its commitments. There are those who feel that it would lead to other countries going easy on their commitments as well, but others point out that most governments are likely to soldier on considering how much is at stake.

When it comes to India, there is a school of thought that India has moved past the point on making its climate change fight entirely contingent on receiving funding and technology from abroad.

Noting that India had always maintained that there were several things it can do, with or without help from developed countries, Navroz K Dubash, coordinator of the Climate Initiative at the Centre for Policy Research, said that India should continue with its efforts to combat climate change because "it is in our own interest" to do so.

Dubash also said that the international community needed to make it harder for the incoming Trump administration to hurt the Paris Agreement. "It is important for India to try to shore up support that any precipitous action on the part of the U.S. is basically in violation of international law," he said.

All Hands Needed On Deck

One thing which is certain is that even if every country continued to do their bit, it would be impossible to save the planet without the cooperation of U.S., the second largest emitter of CO2 in the world. The United States has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 to levels that are 26-28 percent below what it emitted in 2005.

The Climate Action Tracker has worked out that the current CO2 reduction commitments by the U.S. are not consistent with limiting the increase in global warming to under 2°C, let alone 1.5 degrees Celsius. On top of that, earlier this month, Boston-based Lux Research Inc. estimated that Trump's policies on climate change could lead to an additional 3.4 billion tons more CO2 emissions than a Clinton one.

To fulfill its present commitments, the U.S. would need to fully implement not only Obama's Climate Action plan but also his Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, and could reduce CO2 emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

But it could be a while before Obama's legacy sees the light of day, if at all. In September, Trump said that he would scrap the Clean Power Plan, which, he said, "will shut down most, if not all, coal-power electricity plants."

A group of American states are actually suing the Clean Power Act in the U.S. Supreme Court, and now it is up to Trump to appoint the next Supreme Court judge. The Republican Party now also controls the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Environmental activists are also alarmed at the prospect of the damage that Trump could do to climate finance, something that the developed world has never been very enthusiastic about in the first place. But now, even this trickle could dry up. The goal, at least in theory, is to mobilise $100 billion a year by 2020.

So far, the Obama administration had contributed $500 million to the Green Climate Fund and pledged another $2.5 billion. But Trump has said that he plans to "cancel billions in global warming payments..."

"The climate process desperately needs more money to support vulnerable countries and communities," Action Aid's Singh said. "The United States has an extremely important responsibility in this regard. But mobilisation of finance requires the support of the administration and or Congress. Even if President-elect Trump remains neutral, the process of raising money will be seriously affected."

Pinch of Salt

For now, it would appear that experts are taking Trump's shocking denial of climate change and his heralding a new age for coal with a pinch of salt. As Alden Meyer, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, put it, even the president of the U.S. "does not have the power to amend and change the laws of physics, to stop the impacts of climate change, to stop the rising sea levels."

On a practical note, Trump cannot completely ignore the fact that power companies in the US are using more natural gas than coal to burn electricity, with a record number of coal-fired plants having been retired from service. He can't ignore the growing number of people who are against using the dirtiest fossil fuel because of its ghastly health implications.

Trump also can't ignore the fact that it is becoming cheaper to produce renewable energy, with many Americans looking favourably at solar and wind energy. It is also a sector which is producing millions of jobs, with the potential of generating even more employment.

In a recent interview with HuffPost India, U.N. environment chief Eric Solheim said that renewable sources of energy were actually the cheaper option if one factored in the health costs inflicted by the use of coal. In the past three decades, for instance, the percentage of Americans with asthma has more than doubled.

"In the studies that we have made, coal industries in the US and China are the least profitable industries on the entire planet," Solheim said. "One day the coal industry will have to pay for the health budget, for those who get asthma, and who have breathing problems, the cost of coal would be much much higher."

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