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Trump and the Future of Climate Policy

A shift to renewables is making fast progress in America. 

As Barack Obama’s presidency comes to an end, the concern that climate change will take a backseat in the next four years has now become a reality. Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump’s vocal statements about wanting the United States to pull out of the 2015 Paris Agreement created fear among the global community. Such pronouncements have also signaled a growing concern over the direction that the new administration might take on the issue of climate change.

One such fear is whether the United States pulls out of its commitments to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and international development aid. The GCF is one commitment that calls on rich nations to provide money and technology to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change, and is a key component of the Paris Agreement. Although this move might strike a blow to Obama’s promise of $3 billion to the GCF over a period of four years, there are ways to overcome the funding gap.

Some of these include innovative finance mechanisms such as green bonds, which allow for the flow of investment-grade climate-related finance across various countries. And even if the Trump administration does not support such instruments, it is the private sector push that has sustained the green bond market so far and will enable it to be a key driver in the future of climate finance and developmental aid. However, pressure on Trump to stay partially engaged in these international discussions will mount as climate change impacts begin to affect countries that are trading partners or close allies.

These concerns may be real, but such a reversal in policy is almost always easier said than done. On the international front, if the US chooses to back out of the Paris Agreement, the international community would most likely retaliate with a carbon tariff on imports of American-made goods. By doing so, it would only prove expensive to the heaviest industrial polluters, like those producing good containing steel and cement.

Even though the climate agreement does not explicitly state any enforcement measures (such as economic sanctions), the global mindset for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is so strong that America’s biggest trading partners like Mexico and Canada could introduce carbon tariffs. As one New York Times article puts it, forcing US industries to turn to cleaner energy sources under a threat of an import tariff is not a far-fetched idea.

Private Sector Switch

But it isn’t just international pressure that makes it hard to slash climate agreements and end progress on environmental protection. The shift to renewables in America is making fast progress on its own. Recently, Google announced that by 2017 all of its operations and offices would be powered by 100% renewable energy. This landmark moment for the internet giant is signaling a rising trend within the private sector of switching to low-carbon sustainably produced energy.

Other tech giants such as Apple and Amazon have also started investing heavily in renewable energy, creating a market push for clean technology. This is great news as tech companies have increasingly been under scrutiny due to their fast growing operations and, in turn, generating a bigger carbon footprint. It is now said that the tech industry accounts for about 2% of global GHG emissions, even rivaling transport-heavy industries like aviation.

Such advancing changes are not purely because big corporations have suddenly become empathetic to the impacts of climate change. Sustainability itself has become a business case that advocates for better financial opportunity in renewables (the falling cost of renewables in the past few years), more resiliency from extreme climate events (like Hurricane Matthew and polar vortexes), and opportunities to grow their own profit margins (such as efforts made by Apple to venture into the production of renewable energy).

It is not only tech companies that are taking off, but auto giants like General Motors (GM), Toyota and Volkswagen are slowly getting in on the sustainability trend. This race to reduce carbon emissions really took off when companies like Tesla came out with a plan to revolutionize the car industry. By using sleek electric vehicle (EV) models that capture a driver’s imagination using technology such as autopilot driving, Tesla and others are paving the way into the future. Their rising popularity is seen with Tesla reported a 64% surge in vehicle production in 2016 alone.

The market is also getting competitive as companies like GM are coming out with alternative options for the car owner. One such option being the newly released Chevrolet Bolt EV, an electric car that is not only efficient, but can easily enter the mass production market. Such competitive, technologically advanced and fuel-efficient vehicles not only signal a shift from traditional car manufacturing, but also make it harder for any government to curb technology growth that is dependent on clean power.

Ideological Challenge

The biggest challenge that the Trump administration poses, however, is an ideological one. As Catherine Abreu of the Climate Action Network Canada told me in an interview: “There will always be sub-national action to keep momentum alive for the climate agenda, but it is the moral impact of decisions taken by the new administration that will deal the biggest blow to the climate community.”

However, in such uncertain times, it is optimistic to know that strong market forces are fueling the growth of natural gas and renewable energy, and in turn making companies abandon coal. It is against Trump’s anti-globalization rhetoric that different communities will continue to work together and rally around the mission of tackling climate change.

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Environmentalists have always felt the urgent need to address climate change, but with changing political systems, this momentum and morale will need greater protection than ever before. Whether or not Donald Trump believes that climate change exists, the rest of the world knows it does and is willing to work toward combating it—with or without the United States’ support.

In the gloomy times ahead, we must remember that happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light—powered by renewable energy, of course.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: yangphoto