The 2015 Paris climate agreement established a new set of policies to tackle climate change on a global scale, and it seemed to be yielding results – until Donald Trump signed an executive order last week that would do away with his predecessor’s Clean Power Plan and turn the U.S. into a leading exporter of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Almost immediately, the European Union reacted to Trump’s order with Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, stating: “We regret the U.S. is rolling back the main pillar of its climate policy, the Clean Power Plan… It remains to be seen by which other means the United States intends to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement.”
Arias Cañete is already in talks with Chinese senior officials regarding the widespread implications of the U.S. change in climate policy. Both countries previously recognized that more pressure was piling on the world’s largest economies to stem further ecological disaster. Now, only one of them is willing to accept that pressure.
Whatever the outcome of the talks between the E.U. and China, the fact remains that should the U.S. back down from its emissions reduction commitment, the added pressure on the E.U. could worsen an already tense political landscape which could lead to a splintering in the continent’s joint climate policy. According to Ian Duncan, head of the E.U.’s Emissions Trading System, “You can’t have the E.U. alone addressing climate change and nobody else doing it. Your industries will suffer immediately.”
The E.U. has recognized that Trump’s decision hues closely to his campaign promise to spur growth in the country’s energy industry. But E.U. representatives have lately made repeated references to Washington’s prior commitment to the Paris Agreement, which remains in effect. More importantly, while Trump’s order came under fire from the international community, it failed to address the implications for the Paris treaty – an issue brought to light by Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and one of the chief brokers of the agreement.
“Trying to make fossil fuels remain competitive in the face of a booming clean renewable power sector, with the clean air and plentiful jobs it continues to generate, is going against the flow of economics,” Figueres said.
In a surprising turn of events, the new executive order will instead make China the leading country in the race for climate change technology and regulation. Even with the country’s infamous pollution, its own clean energy approaches have allowed the Chinese economy to flourish. Now, the country may be forced to lead by example in the post-Trump era.
In immediate response to Trump’s order to rollback the Clean Power Plan, the E.U. has accepted responsibility for maintaining the leveling of carbon emissions which have been achieved since 2005. According to a statement by the E.U. Commissioner Arias Cañete, “[The] continued leadership of the E.U., China and many other major economies is now more important than ever. When it comes to climate and the global clean energy transition, there cannot be vacuums, there can only be drivers, and we are committed to driving this agenda forward.”
And yet, the after-effects of Trump’s decision to abolish Barack Obama’s signature climate policy achievement are already being felt. China, one of the leaders in aggressive climate policies, is likewise seeing similar lobbying to curb climate restrictions. Despite the country’s considerable advances to lower carbon emissions, its own domestic environmental issues are considerable. According to a statement by Li Shuo, senior climate adviser for Greenpeace, “There is a clear risk that the United States might go beyond the delicate balance that the countries agreed in Paris.”
In India, the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank, has already predicted that the U.S. change of course will give the Indian government the excuse it needs to delay the implementation of certain climate change policies. Should this trend continue and other developing countries begin to back down from their commitments to the Paris Agreement, all the years of hard work could begin to come undone.
By all accounts, the E.U., China and other leading economies must share the brunt of the responsibility to tackle climate change – and now only more so in the absence of support from the Trump administration. If recent predictions are anything to go by, the Trump administration by 2025 could serve to seriously hobble the application of the Paris Agreement, impeding efforts at transparency in the name of “pro-growth” economic policies.
The future may not be entirely bleak, however. According to Stanford Law School analyst Michael Wara, the Trump administration would be forced to remain in the Paris agreement for four years in accordance with international law, which could prove to be enough time for cooler heads to ultimately prevail.