After Donald Trump blows to climate change fight, could it still be business as usual?

The decision, which aims at eliminating about 90% of all HFC use by 2050, could be the single most important action against climate change

Written by Amitabh Sinha | Published:January 2, 2017 12:10 am
donald trump, trump, trump climate change, climate change US, US climate change policy, paris agreement, US president Donald Trump, world news, Montreal protocol, US news US President-elect Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

2016 was a happy year for environmentalists — until November, when Donald J Trump, self-confessed climate change denier, won the White House and busted the party. The Paris Agreement of December 2015 gave unprecedented momentum to the fight against climate change. In barely 10 months, the Agreement got the minimum number of ratifications required for it to come into force — the fastest operationalisation of any international agreement of its size and scope.

In between, countries approved a landmark amendment to the Montreal Protocol, enabling this 1997 ozone-saving arrangement to oversee a phasedown of the extremely dangerous hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases that are known to be hundreds to thousands of times more harmful than carbon dioxide in warming the earth’s atmosphere.

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The decision, which aims at eliminating about 90% of all HFC use by 2050, could be the single most important action against climate change, with a potential to shave off 0.5 degrees of global temperature rise by 2100.

Then, in early October, a large number of countries agreed to voluntarily curb, from 2020, the rise of emissions from international aviation. Aircraft emissions, contributing roughly 2% of global emissions, are not covered by the Paris Agreement, and required a separate arrangement under the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Riding on all these successes, the world seemed to be getting itself seriously equipped to fight climate change. Until Trump surprised everyone by getting elected as the next President of the United States.

The election results came in the middle of the annual climate change conference in Marrakesh, Morocco. Many at the conference were in tears. Trump had called climate change a “Chinese hoax” during the campaign, and had promised to tear up the Paris Agreement. He could undo all the hard work that had gone into stitching together a global climate agreement that seeks to keep global temperatures from rising beyond 2 degrees from pre-industrial times, which science says is essential to prevent catastrophic and irreversible impacts of climate change.

It was feared that among Trump’s first announcements after winning the Presidency would be the one about Paris. That, thankfully, did not happen. Trump even surprised many by saying, during an interaction with journalists of The New York Times, that there could be “some connectivity” between climate change and human activities. But hopes that he might be considering rethinking his climate change beliefs were dashed as he appointed ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson — who once described climate change as an “engineering problem” with “engineering solutions” — as Secretary of State, and Scott Pruitt as head of the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA), the very agency Pruitt had sued, and against whose “activist agenda” he claims to be a “leading advocate”.

It is possible that Trump may eventually not take the US out of the Paris Agreement. But that in itself may not mean much. Considering the extraordinary international effort that is required to make available adequate finance and technology, the two most crucial resources in the fight against climate change, the world probably needed an activist US President to galvanise global action. Trump seems to be on the opposite end of the spectrum. Even without walking out, the US can cause terminal damage to the process by just being unenthusiastic, or by not doing enough. The weight of inaction can become a huge drag on the implementation of the Paris Agreement, and render it utterly meaningless.

What gives many people hope, however, are Trump’s business instincts. The fight against climate change offers a one-of-its-kind business opportunity worldwide. Investments worth hundreds of billions, probably trillions, of dollars are required in renewable energy, new and cleaner technologies, transport, and urban rejuvenation. Some of these, like renewable energy, are already among the fastest growing areas of investment. A large number of American companies are in line to exploit these opportunities — many have made huge investments across the world for the next 30-40 years. A global slowdown in these sectors triggered by US inaction could put these investments at risk.

Trump is nothing if not an astute businessman. He has more friends in business than in politics. Therein lies hope for the fight against climate change in 2017.

amitabh.sinha@expressindia.com

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    Leslie Graham
    Jan 2, 2017 at 3:25 am
    Trump is certainly NOT 'an astute businessman'.lt;br/gt;He inherited billions and would have done better if he had just put it all in a savings account.lt;br/gt;He has declared bankruptcy multiple times and once managed to lose a billion dollars in a single year.lt;br/gt;He is quite capable of bankrupting the US economy with his insane science denial.lt;br/gt;Investing in fossil fuels right now is like investing in horse and buggies in 1905
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      RiHo
      Jan 1, 2017 at 10:51 pm
      "Trump is nothing if not an astute businessman." Counting on Trump to reverse course in the climate change wars seems implausible to say the least. He has appointed to leadership positions people for EPA and Energy and Commerce to stifle the regulatory over-reach of Obama. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;The "die is cast" so said Julius Caesar as he crossed the Rubicon River to ignite a civil war with Rome. The die is also cast in the climate wars with Trump's Cabinet appointments and policies whereby subsidized windmills and solar panels will have to compete in price with natural gas, and eventually a modern day coal energy source. Abundance and cheaper has much more appeal to rate payers (people actually paying for electricity) than coastal elites's gloriously expensive and intermittent "renewables." My only question is who will be paying for the tearing down the abandoned renewables eye-sores when they haven't reached their 20 year useful life. The deplorable rust belt voting types don't mind sticking the bill to Wall Street bankers who bet on a Government revenue stream from Congress and the Presidency.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Most important, the research dollars upon which agencies like NOAA's global warming and NASA's earth science CO2 program have depended, will now be scrutinized, redundancy revealed and eliminated, and research dollars re-directed into understanding issues of immediate concern: weather predictions more than 2 weeks out. That of course means that many "climate scientists" will either adapt to researching weather, or fade away like old military soldiers.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Renewables, which really are not renewable, only another intermittent electricity source abandoned by rural communities when "Rural electrification programs" replaced windmills and solar energy came into being in the 1930's. And, "sustainable" which really are not sustainable because of the high cost of trace mineral extraction and energy distribution charges, will all find their way to history books as a time and as industry attempting to resurrect an energy past for political gains has no particular merit.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Personally, I can't see a future for the present "Progressive Agenda" with the current demonizing of CO2 as has been the case for the last 8 years of Obama's tenure. The ideal of helping poor people by increasing their energy prices to heat and light their homes, to taxing their fuel costs for them to get from one place to another; to raise the costs of their food getting from field to table is well...just lunacy. I guess, the "Progressive Agenda", emanating from Coastal Elites just doesn't get it; they remain: clueless.
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        Robin Whitlock
        Jan 3, 2017 at 8:02 am
        Atlantic City?
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        1. S
          Santanu Roy
          Jan 2, 2017 at 2:41 am
          Well-written
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            Johnny Faith
            Jan 1, 2017 at 11:03 pm
            The problem with most of the media is they still do not realize that most thinking people (who can do a little research for themselves) are… Climate Deniers! The real problem with developing nations, such as China and India. And who will tell them they have to lower their bottom line in the name of the environment? Answer: No one nor any nation can do that. Therefore, American and Europe needs to help them to become good stewards of the eco system by bringing their factories home; where things are made responsibly, and with clean energy…lt;br/gt;See? There you go… Problem solved.
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            1. W
              Walt
              Jan 1, 2017 at 10:56 pm
              I hope you have stated this feeling to your kids and gkids(if you have any) so they can see HOW WRONG you were !
              Reply
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