Why Climate Action Will Continue, Despite Trump
Donald Trump was just elected as the next President of the United States. This is a man who has famously referred to climate change as a “hoax created by the Chinese”. He has promised to “cancel” the Paris Climate Deal, throw out the Environmental Protection Agency and create jobs by boosting the U.S. coal, oil and shale industries, abandoning President Barack Obama’s plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Since being elected, Trump has appointed climate change denier Myron Ebell to lead the transition team for the EPA and anti-climate conspiracy theorist Steven Bannon as chief strategist.
Republicans now control the House and the Senate. Trump will likely appoint a right-leaning Supreme Court justice. While certain of Trump’s headline promises, such as immigration and trade, may meet resistance from a split Republican party, a more aggressive (and regressive) energy policy would likely attract broad support. This means that a lot could change quickly on the climate and energy front in the U.S. Is the global battle against climate change over?
Absolutely not. And this is why.
Governments and businesses around the world remain committed to the adoption of increasingly stringent climate policies—whether or not the U.S. is part of the Paris Climate Accord. Since the election, world leaders have made it clear that they are moving forward with the Paris Agreement. French President Francois Hollande and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reassured the almost 200 nations at COP22 in Morocco last week that action on climate change and a historic shift from fossil fuels are unstoppable. Canada has confirmed that it will not change course on its carbon pricing plans and actually just released an incredibly ambitious Mid-Century Long-Term Low-GHG Development Strategy, indicating that we are moving full steam ahead. Not a single country has indicated that it would pull out of Paris if Trump causes the U.S. to withdraw from the Agreement. In fact, seven countries, including Australia, have joined since the election. Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin stated that China will continue the fight against climate change “whatever the circumstances”. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said that it was “committed to meeting the world’s energy needs via the gradual transition towards a more environmentally sustainable future.” The world is moving in this direction.
Companies and investors are pushing for climate action and will continue to move forward on their own. In a letter addressed to Mr. Trump, 365 companies and major investors including Kellogg, Nike, Dupont, Intel, Levi Strauss and Starbucks urged the President-elect not to abandon the Paris climate deal, saying that a failure to shift to a clean economy would endanger American prosperity. Signatory companies emphasized their “deep commitment to addressing climate change,” and demanded that Trump leave in place low-emissions policies in the U.S. Levi Strauss Vice President for Sustainability stated that “building an energy-efficient economy in the U.S. will ensure our nation’s competitiveness and position U.S. companies as leaders in the global market”. Even the World Coal Association (WCA) issued a plea to the soon-to-be President to try to reduce greenhouse gases. And companies will continue to move forward even when governments are stalled. For instance, at least 517 companies, including Google, Walmart and Shell are already using an internal price on carbon as an accounting and risk management tool and an additional 732 companies are considering whether to follow suit. Moreover, a new study released by the Global Adaptation & Resilience Investment Working Group (GARI) found that over 70% of private investors surveyed see both risk and investment opportunity from the impacts of climate change.
Cities, provinces, states and regions have always led the way on climate action and that is not going to change. Two of the largest economies in the U.S. – California and New York – have both signed onto ambitious climate goals and have assured their constituents that Trump’ victory will not cause them to back down on the fight against climate change. California’s Energy Commissioner, David Hochschild, made clear that the state was more committed than ever to clean energy at the Low-Emission Solutions Conference held concurrently with COP22. Much of the renewable energy boom seen in the U.S. has been driven by state policy, including in Republican states. The top-10 wind-energy producing congressional districts are held by Republicans. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a November 18th interview that the Renewable Fuel Standard will survive a Donald Trump administration. Beyond the U.S., coalitions such as the Global Covenant of Mayors (representing over 7,100 cities), the Climate Group’s States & Regions Alliance and the City Energy Project are driving the clean energy revolution and sending strong signals to national governments that they are moving forward with climate action.
Energy economics support more renewables, not a fossil fuel renaissance. Trump has promised to unleash the full potential of the shale gas industry as well as “end the war on coal”. But in reality, these two energy sources are in competition with one another. According to Benjamin Sporton, chief executive of the World Coal Association, “the fundamental pressure is from the low prices of shale gas and that means that there will be a lot of challenges to the expansion of coal”. Indeed, it is not the Obama administration nor the Paris Agreement that stands in the way of a booming coal industry in the U.S. Instead, it is low prices for natural gas, low prices for renewable power and stagnant electricity demand. Low global oil and gas prices will also make it hard for U.S. fossil fuel companies to justify expanding their operations and production into the future. Meanwhile, renewable technologies such as wind and solar will continue getting cheaper and are already beating out fossil fuels economically in a number of jurisdictions. Whether we have pro-renewable policies in place or not, clean energy is becoming the competitive choice. Continued technological advances will ensure that the world will continue its inevitable transition to a low-carbon future.
Those dedicated to fighting climate change are more galvanized than ever. A notable silver lining of Trump’s victory is an increase in support for organizations that will continue work towards the advancement of civil liberties and environmental protection. This swell of support is occurring with more energy and intensity than many of us have seen in our lifetimes. Organizations that seek to protect key civic and human rights are receiving unprecedented amounts of support, both in terms of donations and volunteers. For instance, in less than a week after Trump was elected, the American Civil Liberties Union had received $7.2 million from 120,000 donors. Given the incoming government’s anti-climate views, much of the outpouring post-election has flowed to environmental groups, such as the Natural Resource Defence Council and the Sierra Club (the latter reporting 11,000 new monthly donors signed on within the first week after the election). Riding this wave of support, one of the biggest ever environmental campaigns was launched last week by a coalition of the world’s top scientists and environmentalists in an “emergency effort to convince the President-elect that global warming is real” before he enters into office. As part of this effort, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is bringing together leading scientists from across the US to urge Trump to “listen to the evidence, rather than accept the testimonies of conspiracy theorists and fossil fuel lobbyists”.
In addition to all of these reasons why the movement to urgently mitigate and adapt to climate change is still moving ahead with full force, Donald Trump’s election doesn’t change the fact that climate change is happening. For those organizations and individuals who, like us, believe that climate change is one of the greatest threats of our lifetime, we cannot – and will not – give up the fight. Let’s channel our energy, ramp up our efforts and mobilize the hundreds of thousands of global partners we have in this critical movement. It’s time to get to work.