Trump May Find Climate Deal 'Difficult' To Break

Nov 14, 2016

Donald Trump’s surprise victory has prompted climate ministers from around the world to issue a joint statement about the need for the whole international community, including the United States, to remain committed to the Paris Climate Accords.

Rhode Island Public Radio environmental reporter Ambar Espinoza talked to a Brown University climate policy expert, who is at this year’s United Nations climate summit in Morocco, to find out how leaders are taking the news.

Global leaders are in Morocco for more than a week to figure out how to carry out voluntary pledges they made last year in Paris to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. During his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump vowed to withdraw the United States from its climate commitments.

“We are going to cancel the Paris climate agreement and stop all payments of the United States tax dollars to UN global warming programs,” said Trump in May in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Fear that Trump will follow through on this pledge is widespread not just in the United States, but also abroad, said Brown University Professor J Timmons Roberts, who’s in Morocco for the climate talks.

“But what I've been surprised is that people are kind of taking it in stride, people from around the world,” said Roberts, who has been blogging about his insights and observations while in Morocco. “That is, this is happened before: the United States has negotiated, made agreements, and then backed out or pulled out or at least looked like it might.”

For many years, the United States has lagged behind others nations in curbing climate change. That’s set back progress by about 15 years already, said Roberts. And it’s why the Paris Climate Accords is such an achievement. Roberts said it will be difficult for Trump to step away from it immediately, because President Obama signed us on for four years.

“So it was set up in a way that it's going to be difficult for Trump to immediately pull the plug, if we wanted to,” said Roberts. “And personally I hope he realizes that it is in fact – if you're a deal maker – this is about a good a deal as you can get. It's got the developing countries, including China and India involved in solving the problem.”

China and India are big emerging economies and large emitters of greenhouse gases, said Roberts. He adds that countries can decide for themselves how they are going to meet pledges. The United States has made a modest pledge of reducing 26 to 28 percent of greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2025.

Roberts said we don’t really know what Trump will do on climate change or the environment because we have seen candidate Trump, a showman who understands reality TV elimination games.

“That's a certain kind of genius of his to be sure, but when it comes to the need to make deals, the negotiator Trump is who we are going to see once he takes office,” said Roberts.

Roberts hopes Trump will recognize that sticking to this climate agreement makes good business sense. And even if the United States were to withdraw from the Paris accords, Roberts said the agreement would still remain in effect.

“So if the United States pulled out, there would be 102 countries and they would still represent 55 and a half percent of global emissions – so it's not going to stop, the system will keep moving forward... There’s grave concern, but not despair.”

But Roberts said people at the climate talks recognize that it would move forward at a slower pace than global leaders had hoped, and at a slower pace than the world needs.