While America was watching Donald Trump sweep the polls, climate representatives from over 200 countries saw America’s commitments to international climate goals blow away. This week, climate negotiators–along with NGOs, journalists, and other observers–are gathered in Marrakesh, Morroco to flesh out the details of the Paris agreement, newly ratified and enacted by the United Nations to address climate change. And though Trump hasn’t described his climate and energy policies in detail, he has made it clear that he will not honor promises the Obama administration made to combat the intensifying global warming catastrophe.

The Clean Power Plan. Tax breaks for renewable energy. Cabinet appointees and a Supreme Court seat. Trump has the power to drastically change US environmental policy–and as the soon-to-be-leader of the world’s largest economy and second-largest greenhouse gas emitter, his decisions will change the math for other nations previously committed to climate regulations. Some will follow the US, and dial back (or abandon) their goals. Others will stay the course. And still others might double down on climate goals, potentially gaining global clout as a result. However the 45th president of the US proceeds, his decisions on climate will affect everyone on Earth.

Last November, after 21 years of annual negotiations, 196 nations agreed to a broadly-worded promise to limit global temperatures from rising 2?C above pre-industrial levels--and to aim for as close to 1.5?C above those temperatures as possible. Scientists believe that if the world exceeds that 2 degree cap, the world will experience the very worst effects of climate change: stronger droughts, heat waves, storms, and famines. (Planet Earth has probably already blown past the 1.5?C mark.)

The Paris document entered into force on November 4. “The goal of this Marrakesh meeting was to fill in all the blank spots in the Paris agreement, which is full of to-be-negotiated material,” says Michael Wara, environmental policy expert at Stanford University. In particular, it left open questions like how countries would report their emissions to one another.

“The Paris agreement was designed to be durable and survive shifts in political currents,” said Elliot Diringer1, executive vice president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Yet many global leaders have yet to confirm their commitment to the document in light of Trump’s victory. Trump has called the Paris agreement a bad deal, vowing to pull out or renegotiate the US commitment.

If the president-elect reneges, the treaty requires four-year notice, during which time the US is still required to submit its annual emissions reports. And if the country honors that requirement, those reports will likely show a dramatic deviation from the Obama administration’s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. Because Trump has also vowed to gut any environmental policies he feels are harmful to business.

The National Agenda

Front and center among those contested policies is the Clean Power Plan. The EPA regulation (which uses the Clean Air Act to force sweeping changes on the US power industry) is already in legal hot water, being contested in the DC circuit court from legal challenges brought by numerous states and industry groups. If the case wins, it could go to the Supreme Court for appeal–which, with a Trump-appointed 9th member, would probably shoot the thing down. But that could be moot, because Trump has stated in the past that he will simply force the EPA to kill the reg.

The Clean Power Plan isn’t the only emissions-hammering tool Obama forged in his tenure. Earlier this year, the Obama administration amended its commitment to the Montreal Protocol, an international climate treaty originally signed in 1992, to address climate warming emissions emanating from refrigerators and air conditioners. These emissions–from chemicals called hydrofluorocarbons–don’t really come from the US. But the US has promised to provide funds to developing countries that rely on HFCs to provide air conditioning to their impoverished citizens. If Trump refuses to ratify the amendment, it means the US won’t contribute any funds. “It would mean that developing countries go down a path with cooling and refrigeration systems that will be really harmful to climate, and will be much more expensive to fix later,” says Wara.

Certain cabinet appointments will also have a dramatic impact on the US’s position on climate change. “Secretary of State, Energy, Interior,” Wara lists off. “Whoever holds these and other key positions will shape domestic policy on environmental questions.”

And then there’s clean energy. Federal tax credits have buoyed the recent boom in solar and wind power, as well as electric vehicle adoption. Trump wants to cut corporate taxes, and the production tax credit and investment tax credit (which respectively subsidize solar and wind energy) are easy items to put on the chopping block. As is the electric vehicle tax credit, which gives $7,500 relief to anyone buying an EV. “I would be concerned that certain charismatic leaders of EV companies would be concerned about that credit, especially as they are rolling out the first generation of mass market EVs,” says Wara. The Tesla Model 3 and Chevy Bolt, both due to hit the streets in late 2017, both have sub-$30,000 price tags partially through the beneficence of the federal government.

Global Impacts

Trump’s global trade position could also hurt renewables. For example, solar energy is so cheap–$0.35 a watt, at the moment–because a lot of the hardware is manufactured overseas. Liberal trade agreements keep those costs low, but Trump sees many of these agreements as a threat to domestic production. Tariffs would make those components more expensive, and that added cost could get passed along to consumers. So goes renewable energy’s competitiveness with fossil fuels.

But perhaps the most lasting change Trump could have on global climate would be to withdraw entirely from the UN Framework on Climate Change, which is the foundation for these annual meetings to discuss climate change. Even George W. Bush’s administration–which relegated itself to observer status–didn’t go that far. Any future president concerned with climate change could be hard-pressed to earn the UN’s trust for readmission.

And by then, the world may have moved on. The Paris agreement was a signal from many countries that climate is of preeminent importance. The US’s continued denial could ostracize the country from future dealings, and sideline it as a global leader. In particular, China came out early in its continued climate commitment. “They could adopt a leadership role, and it could be an opportunity for China to shape international regimes, not just on climate, but other things too,” says Wara. Climate, like the atmosphere itself, is ubiquitous, and affects economics, politics, and trade.

No doubt US negotiators deployed by the Obama administration are trying to impress best case scenarios on their foreign counterparts in Marrakesh. If Trump follows through on his campaign trail rhetoric, America’s brief stint of climate leadership is over.

1 Update 2:25pm ET 11/10/2016 – Previous version of this story mistakenly wrote Elliot’s last name was Dillinger.

25 Comments

  1. 1 – The US military, specifically he US Navy, may be the worlds largest generator of nuclear power. Those capabilities are being increased.
    2 – The USMC has been on the bleeding-edge of solar panel development. The USMC developed solar panels which can power radios and satellite communications AFTER the panels received numerous direct hits from the round used by AK47’s. Those systems are, currently, deployed with the most forward operating units.
    3 – The US military is reorganizing the way in which troops and assets are deployed due to crises affected by global climate.
    4 – the US military has almost 2,000 coastal installations in the US alone and they are modifying them, structurally and procedurally, to handle increased water levels and weather events. Naval installations in the mid-Atlantic (VA, MD, GA, etc) are the most affected.
    5 – the US military is building alternative power grids for bases all over the world. They are using solar, wind and geothermal sources. A friend of mine builds and designs these systems.
    6 – I can keep going….

  2. Really? They produce TWICE the atmospheric pollutants of the #2 ranked polluter, the USA.

  3. Although a PART of the Chinese economy is investing in clean energy, they are STILL the world’s largest polluter and it isn’t even close. The Chinese generate about twice the atmospheric pollutants of the second ranked polluter, the USA.

  4. PerryMason – thank you for a polite and respectful exchange that is all to rare in these days of digital conversations. Even though I was a bit brusque, your response was reasonable and thoughtful. I thank you , and commend you, for that.

    My opinion is that climate change is VERY real. I know that our climate has changed, sometimes very rapidly, many times in the past. My natural tendency is to agree with science over superstition, but I know that scientists chases grant money like a hooker chases a guy with a Rolex. The bottom line, for me, is that I just don’t know, so I will rely on history, logic, reason and human nature.

    Politicians and pundits are the LAST people to whom I listen. You are dead-on the mark that this conversation has been hi-jacked and bastardized for political and economic benefit.

    On the subject of our economy and national security as it relates to climate change. Although the threat is real, I believe that the brilliant, creative people in our nation will devise solutions to any challenge. A close friend of mine builds multi-source energy solutions for municipalities, using solar, geothermal and wind sources to make government operations completely independent of the public grid. His company started out doing just that for military bases and “mission critical” Federal buildings where 99.9% up-time is not acceptable. Example? When I lived in Atlanta, my loft was in a building formerly occupied by he Federal government and the upside of that was our power supply. Because our building once housed “mission critical” operations like FDA and CDC, we were on a separate grid from the rest of the city. I have a professional audio recording rig and my power conditioner graphs the incoming voltage level in my home. In “normal” places, there are significant dips and surges (plus or minus 10 volts) in voltage, but, in that loft, the graph was a flat line at 110 volts. In seven years, I never had a loss of power, so I never had to reset the clock on my microwave, alarm, etc. The UPS that I use for my recording gear NEVER came on and the power was very clean, no “dirty” noise. Bottom line – the US military has VERY stringent requirements for power and my buddy meets them with a 100% “off-grid” solution. You know what makes me feel safe and secure? Knowing there are a LOT of people like him 🙂

    Although I am only 51, in my lifetime, I have been told of an oncoming ice age, then global warming and, now, that has morphed into “climate change”. Today, some are predicting another mini ice age. Do you remember the dire predictions related to the “ozone hole”? Despite historical fluctuations in the ozone layer, we spent billions converting our cooling systems and eliminating CFC propellants in consumer goods, which resulted in a “closing ” of the polar “ozone hole”. That’s a good thing, right? I tend to think that ANY reduction in pollutants is a good thing, except this article say that closing the ozone hole may speed global warming…

    http://news.nationalgeographic

    Again, global climate change, sometimes rapid and cataclysmic, is REAL.

    That said, I am unsure of the real impact of human activity on climate today. Said a different way, if we are such large actors in the global climate, what caused massive and rapid climate changes in the past? Why is global climate change increasing, despite massive efforts over the last few decades to make our environment and production methods more clean. I live in a city that, in the 70’s and early 80’s was the third largest producer of steel and iron in the world. Sometimes, you couldn’t see the sun because of the pollution from the smokestacks, but, today, I can see buildings over 10 miles away from my home that I never saw before. Rivers east of the Mississippi no longer catch fire and waterways that were once too toxic for humans are now playgrounds for recreational uses. Our vehicles are cleaner by orders of magnitude and we export them to the rest of the world. Our emissions standards are so strict that VW had to cheat to meet them, with disastrous consequences for them (rightly so).

    Most analysis ignores the self-correcting “feedback loop” built in to the global ecosystem. What is the “correct” global temperature? We know that, over recorded history, we have seen a coupe of “mini” ice ages. From the mid 1600’s to the early 1800’s, the Thames froze over, along with other European rivers. Villages in the Alps were destroyed by growing glaciers, yet, In previous eons, England was more temperate, almost sub-tropical.

    I am, also, unsure, what we, the USA, can do to effect global climate change. How are we supposed to tell emerging markets that they cannot access wealth and affluence with the corresponding emissions of pollutants which, supposedly, cause global climate change? One of the weaknesses of Kyoto were the exemptions for “emerging” markets like China and India (in fact ALL of Asia), Africa, Central and South America. Wealthy parts of the globe can afford the extra costs of being “green”.

    Lastly, is it possible that we overstate our impact on the world in a desire to be relevant? Previous generations fought WWII and the Cold War, both of which were existential threats on a global scale. Both were very clearly defined in terms of the “good” and “bad” guys and what victory looked like. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, everything changed. I think the search for the new “boogeyman” has driven some of our worst policy decisions in my lifetime. Is it possible that eh new “boogeyman”, that all of us can dedicate ourselves to defeating, thus establishing OUR value to history, is “climate change”?

    I guess what I am trying to say is that I just don’t know. I will continue to act, as an individual, to help my environment and vote for politicians the I think have a reasoned and logical approach to energy. I recycle the trash produced by my personal consumption, as well as that of some of my friends. I invest in efficient energy solutions for my home, business, rental properties, vehicles, etc. I walk and cycle to work more often than I drive because I chose to live close enough to work to do so, despite cheaper and “better” options in the ‘burbs. I buy local food at every opportunity. I continue to push my employer toward better waste disposal and LEED building standard on expansion. I am pushing an initiative to replace a large-scale lighting system with LED’s.

    I do what I can, but I am uncomfortable imposing MY beliefs on others.

    My apologies for the lengthy post.

    Thanks for the exchange. Be well.

  5. Responsibility, yes. Worship and demagoguery, no.

  6. I would have thought you liked “Leading from behind.”

  7. Plants did just fine with CO2 at 250 PPM.

  8. Leader implies followers. Nobody is going to follow us now.

  9. 37 years? Global warming has been studied for over 150 years.

  10. Resist_Tyranny

    The latest science, yes “Science” reveals it has nothing to do with CO2. Sorry to disappoint you. https://www.youtube.com/watch?…

  11. Resist_Tyranny

    “AMERICA’S BRIEF ROLE”? Are you kidding? It’s been 37 years of those BS lies. It never had anything to do with environment, only money and control. BTW if you are interested in the real science… the latest reveals how it works and it has nothing to do with CO3. So suck on that fools. https://www.youtube.com/watch?…

  12. I hope he let’s the whole scientific community advise him. He shouldn’t meddle – the best minds are the best regardless of affiliation.

  13. The problem is also political. Lib’s see a human catastrophe if nothing is done while Rep’s see a bit warmer and nicer weather…big difference.
    I truly hope trump replaces some of these activist scientists at NASA. That and cutting all funding to anything climate related will bring sanity back not just to the US but to the world.

  14. Yes. My reasoning has limits. 🙂 And apologizes to Malafator – I understand now they are just challenging someone’s statement.

    It’s my opinion that climate change is real and a danger to our national security and economic prosperity. It’s also my opinion that the discussion is political and counter productive. These are just my opinions and not valid for someone else.

    Thus I very much advocate that people do their own research from a variety of sources. Go ask your kid’s science teacher. Read a scientific publication – do not believe politicians or pundits on either side of the aisle.

  15. The climate change discussion is political. The problem isn’t.

    I suggest that people do their own research – go and ask your kid’s science teacher. Go and flip through Scientific American. Listen to our scientists. Stop getting your information from politicians, news pundits, or the comments section.

    Then upon doing some research and coming upon a reasonable conclusion – if someone is telling you otherwise – then question them.

  16. Agreed. We should not let rabble-rousing and rhetoric not based in fact cloud our judgment. It applies everywhere, not just on this issue.
    The effects are : 1- we can make decisions without proper rationales, which always lead to mistakes 2- people lose trust in what others say going forward, concluding that everything they say is a lie, when it may not be.
    Wrong conclusions will hurt everyone. We all need to keep fighting for truth, with others and within ourselves discovering bias and rooting it out. Otherwise, why bother having human intelligence.

  17. You’re obviously out of touch…the global warming scam is entirely political and has been since Maurice Strong conjured it up in Rio back in ’92. Politicians rode it like a tired donkey for votes and an excuse to raise taxes and gain more power. Now a politician is taking the ball away from you and going home.
    This failed hypothesis has been pushed as the truth by the UN, all scientific bodies activist leadership and the left wing media for decades and you have the chutzpah to say it’s not political?

    Talk about delusional. I’m glad Trump means your opinion doesn’t matter one whit anymore, along with the UN, activist scientists and the left wing media.

    The scam is meeting its end and there’s nothing you can do about it and it’s about time.

  18. Also – I mean no disrespect by saying your opinion is irrelevant. It is valid for you to have an option – it just isn’t valid data.

  19. You are entitled to your opinion – but it’s irrelevant. Our military is publishing this information as part of their normal operations.

    The military has acknowledged it as a real and significant threat.

    This is not a political issue – stop talking in terms of one.

  20. You want truth, yet you dismiss out-of-hand the real, and reasoned, information provided by Malafactor.

    I was pointing out a possible flaw in your reasoning.

  21. Maybe a hundred years out it might be a concern and I suppose they should look at every possibility but don’t think for one minute that during Trumps one or two terms that you’re going to see anyone from the Defense Dept. or the Pentagon go on tv rattling on about climate change…ain’t gonna happen.

  22. That statement is conjecture and your opinion. To those paying attention – do your own research.

    The fact today is that the military has identified climate change as a real risk to be addressed. That is a valid data point.

  23. Only until the costs become so high that they have to stop. When business flees to the states that have no such rules then it’s game over.
    Trump came in just in time to get us out of this imaginary scam.

  24. And when Trump is President he will tell them not to spend any time worrying about “climate threats”, just as Obama told them to make an issue out of it.
    Easy come easy go.

  25. Then help instead of deflecting the discussion. I’m all for entertainment on the internet; however, some people are confusing entertainment with truth. Please.

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