Somehow it’s happened – Donald Trump has been elected as the 45th President of the United States and the world has been left reeling from the news this morning. There is of course the very human and very local impact of this result for America. Not only has the country emerged deeply divided this morning, there is a growing and valid fear among minorities that if Trump follows through on any of his election trail threats, the diverse face of America is about to change forever.
But what does a Trump Presidency mean for the world? Aside from the obvious emigration, trade and international security issues that were brought up again and again throughout the debates, there is one very big topic that has been largely undiscussed by Trump and his team – climate change.
While the issue of climate change was mostly ignored in the three presidential debates, the candidates submitted an answer on their views on climate change to a written debate conducted by ScienceDebate.Org.
Here, Clinton vowed to keep America on track with their current climate targets and promoted the idea of making America one of the leading superpowers in renewable, clean energy. This policy kept very much in line with the Obama Administration’s current plan, one which would keep the U.S on a slow but steady track towards reducing carbon emissions.
Trump however, had no concrete policy to present, as has been the case across the majority of his platforms throughout the campaign. Largely ignoring the question, his stance was that “there is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of ‘climate change’” and proposed that money was better spent elsewhere. This lack of a concrete plan is alarming to the scientific community and this fear is only affirmed by Trump’s own personal beliefs – or lack thereof – regarding the ongoing environmental crisis.
Trump has been very vocal in the past regarding his feelings towards climate change. From tweets in 2012 claiming that ‘the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive’ to calling global warming ‘fictional’ and ‘an expensive hoax’ in 2014, Trump has had a clear public stance on the matter for the last few years, well before his bid for The White House began.
Adding to the growing fears of the scientific community, the newly elected President has kept this stance throughout his campaign. In fact, Trump has promised to pull out of the landmark Paris Agreement within his first 100 days in office. Signed by 193 countries, this was the world’s first comprehensive, globally negotiated climate plan. While there are criticisms of the plan’s targets, with fears that it may not do enough fast enough to reduce global temperature rise, it was undoubtedly a huge step in the right direction to combat the very present threat of global warming.
So what is the world to do if one of the dominant Western superpowers pulls out of this agreement? What does it signify to less developed countries? To those who rely on selling wood and land from deforestation, who rely on widespread palm oil plantations to keep agriculture stable or to those who sell fossil fuels for much needed income?
It tells them that it’s okay to quit. That if the ‘West’ can break promises and disregard the threat of climate change and all that it entails, they shouldn’t have to stick to the same agreement. It sets an incredibly irresponsible and dangerous precedent that could have crippling effects on the Agreement and the future.
“But surely we can just make another one, without the U.S?” Unfortunately, it seems impossible to negotiate a realistic plan to combat change without one of the world’s most powerful countries. The U.S. is one of leading countries in greenhouse gas emissions, has one of the largest global carbon footprints and has, undoubtedly, played an enormous role in the rising global temperatures of the past century. They cannot be ignored or factored out when it comes to answering the question of climate change, nor will they be immune from the consequences of it in future.
Speaking to Climate Home last month, the U.N’s top climate official Patricia Espinosa trusted the ‘incredible amount of legitimacy’ that the Agreement has but advises they will be ‘vigilant and attentive’ in the case of a Trump Presidency, that there was ‘no plan B’ if this Agreement doesn’t work out.
In the time it would take to arrange and negotiate another global agreement, it may be too late to make a real change. As it is, we are teetering on the edge of a precipice. If we work now, together, we have a chance to stabilise rising temperatures and keep the world from suffering from immense consequences like rise in sea level, increased storm activity, areas of intense drought and the socio-economic problems that will stem from these issues.
Many people believe the next four years are bleak with Trump at the helm. The dust is still settling and we are sure to find out very soon what the tone of this presidency will be. But one thing is for sure, four years will come and go but the effects of the decisions made and the time wasted during those years, have the potential to last lifetimes.
-By Deirdre Leonard