Trump has won, what next for global climate policy?

It’s official, the next president of the USA will be Donald Trump, a man who has called climate change a hoax and who promised to “cancel the Paris Agreement”

People, Donald Trump (photograph: ActionSports/123RF)

It’s official, the next president of the USA will be Donald Trump, a man who has called climate change a hoax and who promised to “cancel the Paris Agreement”.

He hasn’t taken office yet but the effects of his victory could already be influencing climate action ambitions as representatives of 195 countries meet at COP22 in Marrakech to discuss how to implement the deal.

Peter Liese was one of the first MEPs to sound a note of alarm this morning, calling Trump’s win “very problematic for climate protection”.

But he was more optimistic about how climate policy would fair in the longer term. “For 16 years [the EU] worked against strong resistance from the USA, this has only changed in the second term of Obama. Now we have to work against opposition from the United States for four more years.

“Our advantage is the changing worldwide atmosphere and that many states are now active on climate policies. Even Donald Trump won’t be able to destroy that.”

In their letter of congratulations to Trump, EU presidents Tusk and Juncker were so keen to emphasise the importance of the EU-US strategic partnership in dealing with climate change that they mentioned it twice.

Martin Nesbit, senior fellow and head of environment and climate governance programme at the Institute for European Environmental Policy, told ENDS: “As president, Trump will have to come to terms with the strong international consensus on climate action; and he will need to pick and choose the areas where he confronts international partners which may give him pause in seeking to damage the Paris Agreement.

“But the extent of US action in the short term to deliver on their commitments is obviously going to suffer.”

Many in the know have already dismissed Trump’s claim that he could cancel the Agreement.

To do this he would need to trigger Article 28 – the Paris Agreement’s equivalent of Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty – which he can’t do until three years after the Agreement has come into force, and then it would be another year before it took effect. By this point his first term would be up and even without the US, the Agreement still has enough ratifying countries to be in force.

And while ‘the Donald’ made great use of polarising rhetoric during his election campaign, Brussels-based energy and climate policy expert Alice Stollmeyer said it was “too soon to tell” what he would actually do.

“First, it remains to be seen who Trump will chose to be: the election-showman or the presidential deal-maker. Second, Trump doesn’t have any concrete climate or energy policies yet.”

She added: “Reality will trump Trump. Even from a strictly economic viewpoint, the US and global shift towards more resource efficiency and renewables energy is a no-brainer.”

But not everyone agrees that Trump will need to trigger Article 28 to undermine global climate action.

Simone Tagliapietra, researcher at Bruegel and Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei, explained that the new president has two other options for derailing Paris.

“The first would be to directly pull out of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – the umbrella agreement for the Paris Agreement – and this would also be considered legally as a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement itself. This radical option, paradoxically, would be easier to achieve than withdrawal from the Paris Agreement alone. In fact, it might be attainable within the first year of the presidency.

“The second option would be to simply ignore the international climate commitments assumed by President Obama, and accordingly reshape the United States’ energy and climate policy.”

Tagliapietra said that the danger for global policy is that it could prompt other large emitters, such as China and India, to question their commitments.

“If president Trump is to maintain his stated positions on climate change from the electoral campaign, overall global action against climate change will be structurally weakened. Even if he takes no drastic action, a lack of global climate leadership is in any case likely.”

Trump’s win comes at a critical time for those calling for more action to mitigate climate change rather than less. Just a week ago UNEP warned that emissions reductions must be ramped up before 2020 or the world will miss its chance to keep global warming below 1.5°C, the all important figure to avoid the worst ravages on our environment.