The morning of November 9 in Marrakech, Morocco kicked off with a much-anticipated press briefing on the U.S. presidential election and climate action. News of Donald Trump's victory was reverberating through the halls of the UN climate talks.
The room of reporters and participants held fears that the U.S. could pull out of the Paris Agreement, cut off financial support and reject burgeoning renewable energy markets.
They were not unfounded fears. While President-elect Trump's energy policy was far from clear, the candidate made several statements about climate change during his campaign that caused scientists and climate advocates to cringe.
But in Marrakech, where the global talks are still under way, negotiators are confident that global climate action will carry on. Negotiators have extended a hand to the new administration to invite America's participation in global climate goals.
“Regardless of the elections in the U.S., when we wake up this morning, we still know that the momentum for climate action has never been greater,” Mariana Panuncio-Feldman, Senior Director for the World Wildlife Fund, said at a U.S. Climate Action Network press briefing last week.
The talks are filled with speculation what a Trump presidency could mean for the policy and negotiations of the Paris Agreement. But world leaders and negotiators of the agreement have postured themselves to expect the new administration’s participation.
Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, questioned whether Trump would govern in the White House the same way he campaigned.
“The real question,” Meyer said, “is will the Donald Trump who takes office as the American President on January 20 be the Donald Trump we just saw in the campaign?”
President-elect Trump did take on a surprisingly measured tone during his presidential victory speech as he offered a hand of friendship to foreign leaders and congratulated senator Clinton on her work throughout the campaign.
However, the president-elect did renew his commitment to cancelling international climate funding and ending domestic carbon regulations in his first 100 days.
Climate policies that could be upended by a Trump presidency
Congress already approved about $500 million out of the billions in U.S. funding committed to the Green Climate Fund to help developing countries prepare for climate change.
Current ambitions within America's nationally determined contribution (NDC) include a 17 percent decrease in emissions by 2020, a 26 percent to 28 percent decrease by 2025, and an intention to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2050. According to the NDC, these ambitions are fulfilled through the guidance of existing and proposed policies under the following acts:
- The Energy Policy Act, which establishes regulations for some of the biggest emitting sectors in the U.S., including transportation, the oil and gas industry, and coal.
- The Clean Air Act, which establishes air quality standards for “particulate matter (also known as particle pollution)” including ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and lead.
- Other specific ambitions for buildings sector emissions reduction in the U.S. NDC fall under the Energy Independence and Security Act.
The NDC also outlines intentions to finalize current regulations to cut pollution from power plants, vamp up the post-2018 fuel economy standards, and shift U.S. focus toward energy conservation in buildings, appliances and equipment.
These, as well as a slew of other climate policies, could be reformed under a Trump administration. But, “it’s impossible to know exactly which policies the Trump administration might decide to cut back on,” Meyer said.
Some experts have also expressed concern over Trump’s new cabinet appointments — specifically, the appointment of Myron Ebell, a known climate skeptic who lead the transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency. While Ebell could certainly priorities within the EPA and appoint others within the agency, “He doesn’t hold any legislative authority,” Cameron Prell, an Energy and Climate Lawyer at Crowell & Moring, LLP, said.
Experts do anticipate that Obama’s Climate Action Plan will be among the first to go, however. The renewable fuels standard, methane regulations and renewable energy tax credits are all unknowns.
For more on U.S. climate policies, see here.
Tapping into new markets
While policy uncertainties loom heavy over climate experts, the strategic economic benefits and market opportunities could help to keep the integrity of U.S. commitments to the climate agreement intact — and here's why.
Markets for clean technology are growing at a tremendous pace. The price of solar and wind continue to fall, global investment is strengthening, and the cleantech markets are already creating millions of jobs worldwide.
According to a 2016 Bloomberg report, renewable and clean technology have now surpassed coal in pricing and are edging up against natural gas prices.
From 2010 to 2015, the report shows that renewable technology prices dropped from $165 per megawatt-hour to $64 per megawatt-hour. During that same time period, solar prices dropped from $439 per megawatt-hour to $84 per megawatt-hour. Solar developers in 2016 are breaking records over and over again.
Natural gas is the greatest price competitor, with prices going from $92 per megawatt-hour in 2010 to $58 per megawatt-hour this year. In contrast, coal remains the most expensive form of energy, dropping from $111 per megawatt-hour in 2010 to $97 per megawatt-hour in 2015.
In addition to falling prices, “56 percent of investment in energy are renewables,” said Hakima el Haite, a UN climate champion, during a business and industry press briefing in Marrakech last week. Worldwide, “they are creating millions and millions of jobs and trillions in added value.”
Global investment in renewable technology grew from about $279 billion to $286 billion, according to the BNEF report — and growth is expected to continue as the rest of the world works to slash emissions and replace coal with cleaner alternatives.
“This is happening in the U.S. as well as everywhere else. And no government would want to stop that,” said Mark Lutes, senior global climate policy adviser at the World Wildlife Fund. “There’s more jobs now in renewable energy, for example, than there is in coal and a government won’t stay popular very long if they try to get in the way of those investments.”
Competition for leadership in innovation is also a huge incentive for U.S. companies to stay at the front edge of new energy technologies.
In addition, cities, states and the private sector are expected to continue investment in clean technologies, regardless of federal policy. In many cases, it's just economically sound for them to do so.
The market opportunities for cleantech may be too great to ignore — especially for a business-driven president.
Facing international pressure
Aside from pressure applied by U.S. businesses and climate experts, Trump faces international pressure from a host of countries if he decides to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Negotiators stressed the fact that the world will not wait for the U.S. to move forward with its global climate action goals.
“Away from the conference, the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been calling for a carbon tax on US goods if President Trump follows through on his promise to walk away from the Paris deal,” reported the BBC.
“I will demand that Europe put in place a carbon tax at its border, a tax of 1%-3%, for all products coming from the United States, if the United States doesn’t apply environmental rules that we are imposing on our companies,” said former French President Sarkozy, according to the report.
The U.S. could face pressure from China as well, according to Li Shuo, senior climate policy adviser for Greenpeace East Asia. As the world’s top emitter, China has made significant efforts to reduce emissions and is not likely to remain quiet if the U.S. (the world’s runner-up emitter) doesn’t pull its weight.
China is set to at least stay on par with the current levels of emissions, if not decrease them, according to Shuo. “That’s indeed a very big achievement,” Shuo said. “And I would expect pressure on the U.S. side as well.”
Trump has already received an invitation from Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General and heads of the EU Council to discuss America's participation in climate action policies.