The impression that some of what Donald Trump said as a candidate may not get translated into public policy was dispelled quickly two days after he became formally “president-elect.” His transition team announced the new administration’s preference for one of its first major appointments: Myron Ebell was likely to head the Environment Protection Agency. The would-be-appointee is the head of the business-backed group, Competitive Enterprise. He has asserted that whatever warming is caused by greenhouse gas pollution is modest and could be beneficial. A Vanity Fair profile of Ebell called him an “oil industry mouthpiece.”
The EPA was given the lead by the Obama administration to implement the commitments the US had made at the Paris talks held in December 2015. The Paris commitment became possible as a result of a historic understanding President Obama had reached with President Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart. Earlier in the summer the two agreed to speed up their efforts to slow down the rise in global temperatures to exceed no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the point at which many scientists say the planet will be locked into an irreversible future of extreme warming. The trend is already in that direction. The World Meteorological Organisation said that in mid-November that it was 95 per cent certain that 2016 would be the warmest year since records began to be kept in the 19th century. It was gratifying how quickly the global community moved to ratify the Paris accord. It had to be endorsed by 50 countries accounting for 55 per cent of total carbon emissions. That goal was met in October.
President Obama used the authority Congress has given the EPA to reduce the amount of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. “The Clean Power Plan is the ambitious centrepiece of Mr Obama’s climate change legacy and the key to his commitment under the Paris accord,” wrote Coral Davenport in an assessment for the New York Times of what the Trump presidency may result in. During the campaign, Trump had ridiculed the Paris accord, promising to shred it once he was in office. His pledge was taken seriously by the residents of the state of West Virginia, the largest coal producer in the country, where he polled one of the highest proportions of the votes cast. It became the most Republican state in the nation after Wyoming.
How will the world react if the US pulled out of the Paris accord? China will go ahead, promised Xi in a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry. But the Indian response might be different. Interest in controlling climate change was an important part of the special relationship that had developed between Obama and Modi. “I think most certainly it will affect the momentum in negotiations because it throws up a lot of questions,” said Arunabha Ghosh, chief executive of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a New Delhi policy group. The Paris accord had promised $100 billion a year to be provided to developing nations to move towards cleaner energy. The Trump administration is not likely to abide by that pledge. “The chances of public funds coming from climate finance are much more dismal now,” continued Ghosh, “Right now I don’t feel very optimistic.”
Since intended global action on climate change is kept under international review, the latest meeting to assess the situation is being held in Marrakesh, Morocco as Trump began the process of assembling his team. On the other hand, the developing world is being hit be another crisis: air pollution. Lahore was blanketed by a lung-choking smog. The situation in New Delhi was even worse. Air pollution is the fourth top cause of death globally after poor diet, high blood pressure, and smoking, with one in ten deaths linked to it in 2015, according to the Global Burden of Disease. In other words developing countries have to work doubly hard to protect their citizens from environmental degradation. President Trump will make their tasked harder.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2016.