Is President-Elect Trump A Climate Disaster?

Anyone concerned with U.S. politics and climate change may be nervous after Tuesday's national election.
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Anyone concerned with U.S. politics and climate change may be nervous after Tuesday's national election. He said he would "cancel" the Paris Agreement, although what this means is unclear. He has been unclear or fickle on many policy positions.

During his campaign, Donald Trump's communications included crass climate denialism, bigot-baiting, and belligerence or flippant attitude toward diplomacy. And of course there is the rampant sexism. These things jeopardize much more than the U.S. reputation.

Pundits often point out that Trump was reaping the ignorance, insularity and anxiety sown by Republican politicians before him. He was just trying to turn out the vote. And climate denialism has been a key plank in this Republican party platform. That meant Trump had to promise to take a disastrous about-face on global climate politics. Trump promising to pull out of Paris is certainly a bad political signal from the United States, particularly now coming from a President-elect and Republican party leader.

On the other hand, there will be fewer Republicans in Congress in part because their message has not been working with everyone. Many in his party believe Donald Trump took the strategy too far. Running away from Trump and what he represented was a common Republican campaign theme by the end of the election. Many Republican Senators and Representatives probably avoided losing elections by back-pedalling from the ultraconservative campaign platform they previously created or endorsed. Optimistically, the internecine Party strife exemplified by the presidential campaign may be part of the Republican Party progress toward climate realism.

It is difficult to know peak climate denialism. President George W. Bush "unsigning" the Kyoto Protocol has to be on the timeline. More than just a step backwards, reneging on Kyoto may have killed the last opportunity to include the United States in a climate regime with a compliance mechanism. But President Bush himself is no longer an outspoken climate denier, and some - incredibly - even credit him for setting the stage for the Paris Agreement.

President-elect Trump may not yet understand that climate wins votes, and that climate can unify not just his country but all countries. But as a populist, he should at some point realize that pandering to nationless fossil fuel companies like Exxon Mobil will cease being helpful to his popularity. Modernizing the U.S. economy so that it runs on renewable energy would be a very good thing for jobs and public health.

Despite his anti-climate rhetoric, we don't really know how Trump will handle with the Paris Climate Agreement. Paris did not legally oblige countries to achieve their climate pollution goals, but it did require they report on results and announce subsequent commitments. When it comes to the climate pollution goals the U.S. pledged for 2020 and 2025, what the U.S. has put on the table is not enough, given its responsibility for the problem and capacity to do more. However, subsequent nationally determined contributions (NDCs) with end dates further into the future is not going to help get the fast, steep cuts in climate pollution that scientists say we need.

The world needs stronger, collective climate action that includes commitments in other international negotiations and domestically. In Paris, countries reaffirmed how important it is to stop global warming from going above 1.5 degrees Celsius (or even 2 degrees). That means we must roll back the expanding supply of globally traded coal, oil, and gas. The U.S. climate movement is rallying around "keep it in the ground," as U.S. fossil fuels producers look to drive up their exports.

With or without a President Trump the global "keep it in the ground" movement will grow. But if Trump wants to be the leader of his party on climate, he can stop allowing new sales of taxpayer-owned fossil fuels, much of which would be destined to be exported to other countries, undermining their efforts to invest in cleaner, smarter power grids. He can push for strong climate commitments into any and all other international negotiations, whether it's negotiations on trade, human rights, aviation, shipping, etc. He should give his delegates marching orders to stop fossil fuel subsidies from international finance institutions and export credit agencies.

One of the best things a U.S. President has is the reputation of being a leader of a transparent democracy, where the will of the people is reflected in policy. President-elect Trump rode a wave of resentment from voters who see this reputation being degraded. The 2016 campaign was steeped in conversations about transparency and corruption, prompted by Wikileaks, revelations about Exxon's climate fraud, and record-breaking corporate campaign finance. So there is perhaps some hope that President-elect Trump can exceed all expectations on climate and be a leader for the people when it comes to global climate change.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, in conjunction with the U.N.'s 22nd Conference of the Parties(COP22) in Morocco (Nov. 7-18), aka the climate-change conference. The series will put a spotlight on climate-change issues and the conference itself. To view the entire series, visit here.

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