The election of Donald Trump probably means that, one way or another, the USA will pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. This may make less difference to how much carbon the world would have emitted in future years than what you might think.
For a start the Paris Agreement already has enough national states as signatures representing a high enough proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions to remain valid with a US withdrawal. The Agreement requires there to be signatories representing at least 55 percent of global emissions, and there’s more than that left in the agreement without the USA.
Second, internally, such downwards pressure on carbon emissions as there is mainly bound up with technological changes or policies that are likely to continue anyway. Coal consumption in the US has fallen by around a quarter since 2008, but according to a recent paper published in The Electricity Journal this has very little to do with Obama, and almost all to do with the increased availability of cheap natural gas. The growth in production of shale gas has been the factor that has reduced the demand for coal and led to the closure of increasing numbers of ageing coal fired power plant.
Another factor reducing coal use is the growth of renewable energy – mainly wind and solar. These technologies are promoted by a bi-partisan Congressional agreement on a policy of production tax credits (wind) and investment tax credit (solar). These will decline in force and run out in 2020. However, many Republican Congressmen are relatively sympathetic towards renewable energy, and there are possibilities that some form of tax credit support could be renewed. The Republicans may not care much for the climate issue, but they are interested in helping people, including often the renewable energy industry, make money.
Certainly Trump is likely to want to short-circuit Obama’s ‘Clean Power Plan’ which was being pursued through the aegis of the Environmental Protection Agency, although even here, many states will continue with their own clean power plans. Trump may order the reversal of the regulations restricting mercury and toxic emissions, compliance with which makes coal plant more expensive. However, as stated already, coal power plant are being retired without this measure anyway. Resistance to Republican initiatives to pare down environmental regulations may prove to be rather sturdier and more effective than the anti-environmentalists bargain for.
Third, there is the global impact of Trump’s protectionist trade strategies to consider. Trade restrictions on China, and quite possibly even the EU, may help relieve competitive pressure on some US industries, but they will, overall, make the world poorer. China’s economy is less robust than it appears, with rising levels of bank debts and it is vulnerable to US pressures to increase the value of its currency. Indeed, my outlook is that there will be anything from a global slowdown in economic growth to a full-blown world economic meltdown. This of course, to a greater or lesser extent, will have a downward pressure on carbon emissions and probably more than offset the impact of Trump’s reversal of Obama’s internal energy measures.
But there’s no doubting the ferocity of the attack on climate change science being waged by many conservative Republicans. Indeed climate change deniers circulate petitions saying that scientists do not accept the notion of human-induced climate change. They get thousands of signatures for this, except that it seems just about anyone with a degree can sign them and that there seems to be a lack of climate scientists themselves signing the petition.
Trump is apparently intending to abolish NASA’s climate science portal, and administrators working for US Government agencies are scurrying to get their science data copied before it is erased by the ‘post-truth’ brigade. Scott Pruitt, the man picked to be the new Head of the Environmental Protection Agency has said (in the National Review): ‘Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind’.
Greenwatch is regular feature in CHARTIST and this article appears in the latest issue, number 284