Trump is isolated on climate — ignore him at negotiations

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As ministers from 195 countries travel to Bonn, Germany for annual climate negotiations to begin Nov. 6, momentous decisions await.

Convincing major-emitting nations to increase the pace of emissions reductions, gaining hundreds of billions in new private and public investment in clean energy, protecting vulnerable populations and finalizing key rules of the Paris Agreement will all be debated. 

{mosads}The backdrop? Increasingly deadly, hugely expensive climate change impacts now manifest in the U.S. and around the world and what scientists believe is a rapidly shrinking window of time to prevent far worse.


Within this urgent context, little effort should be spent worrying about or currying favor with Donald Trump or his appointees. Everything we’ve learned about Trump since he took office suggests it’s a fool’s errand to attempt to convince him to take more responsible action regarding climate change.

As president, Trump has gone out of his way to overturn every domestic and international climate protection and obligation he can, many stretching back to the early 1990s and President George H. W. Bush.  

Not only did Trump flamboyantly announce his determination to exit the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, he has:

  • overturned the key U.S. regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector;
  • signaled intent to weaken U.S. auto efficiency standards;
  • repealed major methane regulations;
  • reneged on $3 billion funding for the U.N. Green Climate Fund and other U.N. costs;
  • revived coal leasing and subsidies on U.S. public lands;
  • proposed additional coal subsidies;
  • consistently denied the irrefutable science of climate change and
  • taken dozens of other actions to undermine climate protection. 

Trump appointees are also reportedly planning a presentation at Bonn on the vital role of unrestricted coal emissions in our energy future. Perhaps we ought to get the message by now. 

Instead, ministers would be wise to focus on urging acceleration of the growing decarbonizing investments being made by U.S. companies, whose leaders almost without exception urged Trump not to leave the Paris Agreement in the first place. 

American carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions fell by more than 3 percent last year, the most of any major emitter, and are down more than 15 percent in the last decade. This suggests that efforts by the Obama administration and other around the world have convinced the vast majority of U.S. companies and investors that carbon constraints, domestic and international, are inevitable over time.  

American corporations and consumers are investing in record amounts of clean energy, with rising demand cutting wind and solar prices by half or more in recent years and renewable energy now comprising the lion’s share of newly installed U.S. electricity capacity. Moreover, the U.S. has created more than four million clean energy jobs, with pay comparable to fossil employment.

But there is still immense opportunity for U.S. industry to expand domestic and global clean energy investment, including bringing productivity advancements from the digital revolution to a host of energy technology, delivery, efficiency and climate problems and opportunities. 

Special pressure should be brought to bear on U.S. oil companies. As low rates of return on oil and natural gas have combined with concerns over long-term overvaluation of their fossil assets, oil company shareholders are demanding a more strategic set of low-carbon investments.  

American businesses have staunch allies in hundreds of U.S. cities and more than a dozen states, led by California, which is undertaking new, best-in-the-world programs on cap-and-trade carbon markets pricing, standards for low carbon fuels and many other issues. 

Iconic U.S.-based innovators, from Bill Gates to Elon Musk to Jeff Bezos, continue to urge a rapid low-carbon transition. And American business and political leaders of all stripes are looking with increasing anxiety at China’s remarkable outpouring of (mostly) clean energy investment, both in China and abroad.

It is true that stronger U.S. federal regulation or market signals will be needed over time to achieve the much deeper emissions cuts necessary for America to do its part in limiting global temperatures to even remotely safe levels.

Indeed, over 30 top climate experts recently found that global CO2 emissions will need to peak by 2020, reach net zero by mid-century, along with much more aggressive cuts in methane and other super greenhouse gases, to keep temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius. But Trump will never play a meaningful role in taking such actions.

Right now, however, from an international climate negotiating perspective, not a single other world leader has followed Trump off the cliff of leaving Paris, and none intend to. Trump is isolated. The U.S. will co-chair a segment of the negotiations, along with China, focused on transparency of emissions reduction for the Paris deal.

Attempts at reasoning with President Trump, like those by French President Emmanuel Macron in July, have come to naught. Macron should not feel bad.

Trump overturned the key domestic carbon regulations in the same weeks in which the U.S. was hammered by a succession of massive hurricanes made larger by climate change, and which cost scores of Americans their lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. 

U.S. government scientists just released the largest ever and most dire National Climate Assessment, mandated by Congress, finding that human activities are the “dominant cause” of climate change, and that temperatures are “the warmest in the history of modern civilization.”  

But facts, and even the safety of the people he pledged to protect, don’t seem to matter to this president.

So please, ministers: Expect a Twitter provocation or outrageous statement by Trump. No doubt his appointees will attempt some other disingenuous foray around the Bonn negotiations. But don’t chase the shiny object, and don’t take the bait. You have far more important things to do.

Paul Bledsoe is a lecturer at American University’s Center for Environmental Policy and strategic advisor at the Progressive Policy Institute.  He served on the White House Climate Change Task Force under President Bill Clinton. 

Tags Bill Clinton Climate change mitigation Climate change skepticism and denial Donald Trump Emissions trading Environmental policy in the United States Low-carbon economy Paris agreement United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

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