Despite the climate denialism in a Trump administration, it will be difficult to stop the zero carbon transition already underway and driven by economic forces, with action by citizens, businesses and states.
As the minutes ticked past midday with Trump's inauguration on January 20, the whitehouse.gov website was swept clean of anything climate related. Obama's record in this area has been officially archived and Trump's pages announce an America First Energy Plan.
- Killing Obama's climate plan not so easy
- Oil pipelines mired in controversy
- Cost of carbon abolition
- Moratorium on coal leasing on Federal land
- Last minute methane and clean water rules under threat
- Arctic and Atlantic Deep sea drilling put off-limits by Obama
- Paris Agreement
- Reasons for optimism
- California Governor Jerry Brown Climate Hero?
- Obama discusses energy transition in Science
- Obama's Parting payment to Green Climate Fund
The plan re-affirms that "Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule." This is the only mention of the word climate on the page.
Bobby Magill at Climate Central has written a detailed article on: Decoding Trump’s White House Energy Plan which he accuses of being "replete with misinformation and specious claims about climate and energy policy".
Reversing President Obama's many achievement's in climate action will not be easy to achieve, although there may be some early wins. See Coral Davenport's New York Times article from Jan 26, 2017: What Trump Can and Can’t Do to Dismantle Obama’s Climate Rules.
Defending present policy action will require resistance by communities on the ground, by state governments, businesses and through legal means.
Update: If resistance fails, 4 to 8 years of inaction by the United States would mean possibly a 15 to 20-year setback and firmly put the world on the path well over 3C degrees of global warming, according to two climate scientists: Ben Sanderson, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder, Colorado, and Reto Knutti of ETH Zurich, Switzerland in an article published at Yale Climate Connections on 21 January 2017.
Killing Obama's climate plan not so easy
Getting rid of Obama's Climate Action plan, enacted through executive order for the EPA to implement, may not be so easy.
The EPA's directives are already being challenged by 27 of the 50 states in court. The Trump administration could order the Justice Department to stop defending it, or could seek a "voluntary remand" asking the court to send the rule back to the Environmental Protection Agency for review.
But the problem with both of these actions is that west coast states lead by California, and New England states lead by New York, along with environmental NGOs, are likely to defend the rule, tying up abolition in legal procedure for perhaps years.
Trump could order the EPA not to enforce the rule. But it is highly likely lawsuits would also follow.
Issuing a new regulation "withdrawing" the Clean Power Plan, might also be tested in the courts, holding up any change.
From another direction the Our Children's Trust legal case is proceeding forward. It passed another hurdle in November 2016 defeating a motion to dismiss supported by the Federal Government and Fossil Fuel Industry. The Legal case based upon the public trust doctrine through the courts may be very important for ensuring the Trump administration takes action.
Oil pipelines mired in controversy
On oil pipelines Trump could invite TransCanada Corp to resubmit its application to build the Keystone XL pipeline. But the price of oil is lower now and TransCanada has put effort into alternative routes. The Canadian government under Justin Trudeau, while still supportive of exporting tar sands oil, is also committed to slow phase out of fossil fuels under the Paris Agreement.
Trump could sign an executive order approving the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota and reversing Obama's order, but water protectors lead by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe are prepared for major resistance to stop this project threatening their water quality.
Cost of carbon abolition
Much of the economic cost-benefit analysis for minimising harm through climate action used in a variety of programs is based upon the "Social Cost of Carbon". By eliminating the use of this calculation in Federal programs the Trump administration could make it difficult to justify certain actions. (See President Trump threatens to undermine key measure of climate policy success, The Conversation, 20Jan 2017)
Currently the expert panel has determined the current cost of carbon at $US36 per tonne, with this rising to $US50 by 2030.
Moratorium on coal leasing on Federal land
Trump could overturn a three year moratorium on coal leasing on federal land. Both China and USA placed three year moratoriums on new coal at the start of 2016.
This was done by the US Department of Interior to evaluate whether the government adequately priced the value of coal extracted from public land on behalf of the taxpayer. I think there was also an element of diplomacy in matching the Chinese moratorium.
The problem with reversing the moratorium is that coal use is in structural decline, both domestically in the United States, and in the coal export market.
Last minute methane and clean water rules under threat
Some last minute rules by the Obama administration may well be overturned fairly quickly. This includes a Bureau of Land Management Methane Rule and regulations under the Streams Protection Act which ensures clean water for communities in mountain top coal removal areas. Under the Congressional Rule Act Congress have the power to rescind regulations within a 90 day period with a simple majority. The Republicans have a simple majority in both houses of Congress.
Arctic and Atlantic Deep sea drilling put off-limits by Obama
Reversing Obama's December announcement on the ban of offshore drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic continental shelves would also be extremely difficult according to some US law academics. Obama used the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953, and although the law has never been tested, would seem to be a one way conservation power of the president that could only be reversed by an act of Congress. Note that the areas withdrawn under the executive action does not include the 3 mile offshore zone of the coast administered under state law.
Obama also designated around 1.6 million acres of federal lands in Utah and Nevada as national monuments, using the Antiquities Act, also difficult to overturn.
“This decision helps jump-start the resistance to Trump’s promised attacks on our environment.” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The whole world is watching Trump fill his cabinet with climate deniers. Putting offshore oil and gas off limits is the best way President Obama can protect our climate future,” said Miyoko Sakashita from the Center for Biological Diversity in a media statement. “We wish Mr. Obama had extended protections to other areas, like the Pacific and eastern Gulf of Mexico, that have largely been off limits to drilling, but we’re geared up resist Trump’s attempts to drill, baby, drill."
Greenpeace have lead many campaigns in the Arctic against fossil fuel exploration and development. Annie Leonard of Greenpeace USA told Democracy Now endorsed Obama's announcement saying it was an "absolutely fantastic thing on a number of fronts" as it matched the science and made activist sense. But she also warned that we need to fight to defend such conservation measures to ensure it never gets overturned.
"This law specifically gives presidents the right to withdraw land from use. Any president could withdraw the land from use. It does not give the president the authority to put that land back into use. So Obama has withdrawn the land. In order to reverse it, there would need to be an act of Congress to actually put the land back into use.
"I’m sure that Trump is going to try. The American Petroleum Institute is already trying to undermine this pledge. But it would be a very difficult and unprecedented act to reverse it.
"No president has ever been able to reverse some land that has been protected in this way. So, while it’s not permanent—you know, there is nothing in U.S. politics that’s permanent—it’s pretty darn close. And ultimately, it’s up to us. It’s up to people power. It’s up to the engaged citizens that got this protected. It’s up to us to continue to protect it and make sure that it never does get overturned." said Annie Leonard.
Donald Trump on the campaign trail said he would pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement within 100 days of taking office.
After the election he softened his stance telling The New York Times that he would keep an open mind about the deal.
Trump's nominee for Secretary of State is Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil, has many conflicts of interest. This includes ExxonMobil's ambitions to drill in Russia arctic zone. At his confirmation hearing, Tillerson was quite relaxed in saying that the United States should stay in the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, to have a seat at the negotiating table.
“It’s important that the US maintain its seat at the table,” Tillerson told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations during his confirmation hearing on January 11. The threat of global warming is real and “requires a global response”, he added. “No one country is going to solve this on its own.” reported Scientific American.
The question then arises will Tillerson's view win out in the Trump Administration, full of people who deny anthropogenic climate change.
If the United States does maintain it's presence, how likely is it to play a blocking or obstructionist role to try and undermine the Agreements rules and frameworks that are being formulated over the next two years?
Brad Plummer in Vox raises a number of pertinent questions on the United States climate policy and the Paris Agreement.
Reasons for optimism
In my presentation Reviewing COP22 in Marrakech I raise a number of signs for some optimism despite a Trump administration full of climate denialists.
I argue that transition to a low carbon economy may be slowed, and climate targets are very likely not to be achieved, but progress cannot be stopped.
Up to the end of 2016 33 states and District of Columbia have cut carbon emissions while expanding economies since 2000. 15 states, led by California, New York, Virginia, Vermont, New Mexico, told Trump that if he tries to kill US climate plans, they will see him in court.(Don't Kill US climate plan, 15 states tell Trump Climate Home 29Dec2016)
West Coast Leaders issued a strong statement on conclusion of COP22 (PDF) on 18 November 2016. Oregon Governor Kate Brown, California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark issued a statement in November 2016 on the final day of the United Nations Climate Conference in Marrakesh, Morocco (COP22):
“Today, as COP22 comes to a close -- two weeks after the Paris Agreement came into force — leaders from across the globe have renewed their commitment to climate action. In California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia — from the Mexican border to the edge of the Yukon Territory — we stand with the international community. Our success demonstrates that taking action on climate change goes hand-in-hand with robust job creation and a thriving clean energy economy.
"We know what's at stake because we have seen the destruction firsthand - from year-round wildfires and historic drought to devastating sea-level rise. These impacts don't respect borders or wait for the next election.
"Our resolve is strong. We will continue to take bold action to achieve the targets set in the Paris agreement. We will mobilize our resources and our people. We will join with other like-minded cities, states and regions committed to action and lead this global fight.”
California Governor Jerry Brown Climate Hero?
In December at the annual American Geophysical Union conference (AGU16), Governor Brown delivered a fiery defence of climate science and California's role in supporting climate science and the energy transition already under way in the state.
"The time has never been more urgent or your work never more important. The climate is changing, temperatures are rising, oceans are becoming more acidified, habitats are under stress - the world is facing tremendous danger," said Governor Brown at the American Geophysical Union's annual fall meeting in San Francisco. "It'll be up to you as truth-tellers, truth seekers to mobilize all your efforts to fight back. We've got a lot of firepower. We've got the scientists, we've got the universities, we have the national labs and we have the political clout and sophistication for the battle - and we will persevere. Have no doubt about that." he said in a statement.
"We will pursue a path of collaboration and bold political advancement - whatever they do in Washington - and eventually the truth will prevail," Governor Brown continued. "This is not a battle of one day or one election. This is a long-term slog into the future and you are there, the foot soldiers of change and understanding and scientific collaboration."
Watch highlights version of his speech on youtube. See at the bottom for a full version by AGU:
Now I don't think Jerry Brown deserves to be a climate hero. Let me explain why.
While Brown has set ambitious climate policy and targets for California, he has also taken big corporate donations including from the fossil fuel industry and been very supportive of destructive oil shale fracking in the state. The question has been asked: Did Jerry Brown’s campaign launder dirty money from big oil?
The LA times came out in May 2015 with an Op-Ed by Bill McKibben: Fracking: Jerry Brown's environmental blind spot, in which he says "That means Brown's legacy is double-edged: visionary on one side but status quo on the other."
A report released in September 2016 documents "critical flaws" in California's carbon trading system, proving many of the concerns the environmental justice community has long raised writes Dan Bacher.
In January 2015 Brown announced a 50 per cent renewables by 2030 target for California....while encouraging the local oil industry in fracking.
Brown's massive Delta Tunnels plan for redirecting water to the Central Valley could be an environmental and biodiversity disaster for the state, according to Dan Bacher. The Delta Smelt, a small fish endemic to the delta area and an ecosystem indicator species, appears to be edging closer to extinction.
Despite the strong rains this year, California still has a long term sustainability problem with water use and drought. Just ask hydrologist Peter Glieck.
There is a fight brewing between the incoming Trump administration over a decades old Federal waiver that has allowed California to set vehicle emission standards.
Within an hour of the inauguration ceremony in Washington DC, California released details of an amended climate plan extending it's cap-and-trade Emissions Scheme to 2030, with a target of 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2030. The plan, reported by Reuters, also calls for an 18 percent reduction in the carbon intensity of transportation fuels burned in the state and 4.2 million zero-emission vehicles on the road.
The three California Utility companies also committed to dramatically increase vehicle charging stations to move the state toward a "zero-emission transportation future."
Obama discusses energy transition in Science
While Trump was preparing for the hand over, Barack Obama occupied some of his time writing a policy article for Science, the Journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The article - The irreversible momentum of clean energy - articulates that many states and businesses are already using clean energy and transitioning to a zero carbon economy.
"The levelized cost of electricity from new renewables like wind and solar in some parts of the United States is already lower than that for new coal generation, without counting subsidies for renewables."
He used as examples Google and Walmart that have embraced clean energy as part of their business models. Even in employment, renewables now employ far more people than in coal. "And economy-wide, solar and wind firms now employ more than 360,000 Americans, compared with around 160,000 Americans who work in coal electric generation and support" he said.
His assertion that businesses supported action and were taking action also came in a business call for Trump to continue climate action plans. More than 530 companies and 100 investors urged policies to accelerate a low-carbon future that will help curb climate change.
“We want the U.S. economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy,” the businesses wrote in a statement of support announced today, in advance of the presidential inauguration. “Cost-effective and innovative solutions can help us achieve these objectives. Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk. But the right action now will create jobs and boost U.S. competitiveness.”
The company signatories included DuPont, Gap Inc., General Mills, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Hilton, HP Inc., IKEA, Johnson & Johnson, The Kellogg Company, Levi Strauss & Co., L’Oreal USA, NIKE, Mars Incorporated, Pacific Gas and Electric, Schneider Electric, Sealed Air, Starbucks, VF Corporation, Unilever, among others. These signatories collectively take in nearly $1.15 trillion in annual revenue, are headquartered across 44 states, and employ about 1.8 million people.
Scientists have also stepped up. Over 700 physicists and astronomers signed a statement to President Trump: An open letter to President-Elect Trump from Physicists and Astronomers about the importance of fighting Global Warming.
Obama's Parting payment to Green Climate Fund
At the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference $100 billion per year from 2020 was first promised in climate finance to get developing countries on board. The finance roadmap has developed since then, and this amount is enshrined in the Paris Agreement.
For the Green Climate Fund set up to help with mitigation and adaption projects in developing counries, The United States share of the initial funding commitment was $3 billion. It had already contributed $500 million to this fund.
In Obama's final days of his presidency he allocated from State Department funding a further $500 million.
This might be the last payment by the United States under a Trump presidency to the Green Climate Fund and the $100billion roadmap.
On the streets of Washington DC there were blockades of people entering to watch the inauguration, although not all gates were well blockaded and people could still get through. The crowds present to watch the inauguration were noticeably down on the attendance figures for Obama in 2013 and 2009. There were many empty stands along the route to the motorcade route to the Whitehouse.
when camera angles matter pic.twitter.com/PaHFyKPGyE— shauna (@goldengateblond) January 21, 2017
See grassroots reporting from dc Indymedia: Disrupt J20: protesters lock down, blockade Inaugural checkpoints. These blockades were overwhelmingly peaceful and non-violent.
There were also the anti-capitalists who smashed a few corporate windows and tipped over rubbish bins. Many of them were eventually kettled by the police after tear gas and flash grenades were used. See: Mass arrest of anticapitalist march after police fire tear gas, 270 total arrests reported.
Full version of "Conversation with Jerry Brown" at AGU16: