Thursday, March 30, 2017



The new US administration has been assumed to be bad news on climate issues. The Trump constituency, and indeed much of the Republican voting base, has been built around an improbable coalition that, inter alia, includes substantial direct vested interests in the form of the oil and coal business lobbies, right-wing ideologies and evangelical movements that reject a now incontrovertible climate science as an “inconvenient truth”, and a significant number of constituencies of the “left behind” in America’s rustbelt, where declining industries have been major employers of labour.

As an aside, there are some unsurprising parallels with the UK – Redwood, Rees-Mogg, and Lawson being just a few of the examples of a virulent and quasi-religious climate science denial,  and quite strong fundamentalist views on other political and economic issues. Brexit like Trump represented a coalition of particular "free market" political ideologies and a "left behind" rejection of a perceived elite. The current trio of Brexit ministers - Davis, Fox and Johnson, despite some equivocation for political advantage, have a distinctly flaky record on this subject.[1]

Ironically it has been reported (FT. 27 March 2017) that the ever unpredictable Boris Johnson is trying to persuade Trump not to withdraw from the Paris agreement.

Trump Follow-through on Climate Policies

The recent news on Trump regime activities has been more cheerful than might have been expected. Although his appointment of an apparently rabid sceptic, Scott Pruitt, as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator(EPA), was met with dismay, Pruitt has been refusing to overturn the so-called “endangerment finding" of the agency in 2009[2], and suffering considerable pressure from conservative Republicans as a result.

There is no doubting Trump’s dislike in principle of climate policies, but as with his dislike of Obamacare, it is proving slightly more difficult to express this in practical terms. His Secretary of State, former ExxonMobil executive Rex Tillerson, wants to keep the US in the Paris Agreement, and ExxonMobil, the world's largest publicly traded oil and gas company, is urging the White House to do just that.

The most powerful argument for the USA not to abrogate Paris is likely to be, sadly not the overwhelming human importance of climate change as an existential threat, but the damage to the US standing in the world, together with the loss of opportunities for US businesses in relation to low carbon technologies.

A Missed Opportunity

There was also an emissions reduction strategy that Trump could have followed to the benefit of his rustbelt constituents. It would have been to target infrastructure spending to the benefit of areas heavily dependent on basic industries and coal in particular. Carbon capture and storage would have been a natural choice and might even have offered a lifeline of sorts to a declining coal industry.

Limitations on Trump Damage

Trump is clearly not good news for ambitious climate policies, so a corollary of his current troubles is some degree of relief among those who do worry about future climate. But, apart from expectations of his possible impotence in key policy areas (cf Obamacare) the following considerations might allow us to be slightly more cheerful.

-The Obama achievements within the US were in any case quite limited. The practical consequences of a possibly quite short Trump presidency are therefore less important than they might have been, particularly if much of the US and indeed US business continues to “get on with the job”

-The real importance of Paris did not reside in achievement of legally binding targets (it failed on this) but in the universal recognition of the issues and the degree of commitment shown, at least in principle.

-US backsliding is unfortunate, but is very unlikely to be copied by China or other major emitters. It will, like most Trump policies, diminish US influence, but it will not derail the Paris process of gradually ratcheting up commitments.


[1] David Davis 2009. BBC report. He said evidence suggested the earth was cooling, not warming, and that recently leaked e-mails had shown leading scientists "conspiring to rig the figures to support arlly their theories". [a wholly untrue allegation as shown by subsequent inquiry]
Liam Fox has generally voted against measures to mitigate climate change.
Boris Johnson. Telegraph article. I am speaking only as a layman who observes that there is plenty of snow in our winters these days, and who wonders whether it might be time for government to start taking seriously the possibility — however remote — that Corbyn [Brother of Jeremy and well known unofficial weather forecaster and contrarian on this subject] is right.

[2] The endangerment finding declared that greenhouse gas emissions threaten human health and welfare and made EPA legally responsible for regulating carbon dioxide. It later set in motion much of former President Barack Obama's climate agenda.

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