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Donald Trump + Boris Johnson = climate catastrophe

Nihar Gokhale | Updated on: 29 June 2016, 9:03 IST

The possibility of Donald Trump being US President has sent enough shivers down pretty much anyone who want humans to still inhabit this planet after 2100 AD. He may well be joined by another man with blonde hair: Boris Johnson. Brexit, and British PM David Cameron's subsequent resignation, has propelled former London Mayor Johnson into the forefront of occupying the top post.

So, what will happen if Trump and Johnson were chief executives of the United States and Great Britain? Yes, the UK accounts for just 2% of carbon emissions in the world. Yes, it is too early to ask - not least because Trump is trailing Hillary Clinton by double digit percentages.

Also read - Why Brexit is bad news for climate change

But Trump is the one who wants to cancel the Paris Agreement, and Johnson recently allowed fracking in national parks.

It may be too speculative, but the potential quantum of damage is too significant for us to ignore the possibilities. Here are five ways Trump and Johnson in power would lead to a climate catastrophe:

Climate denial

Both the leaders have shown exceptional interest in denying the existence in climate change. Trump's climate denial needs no introduction (read this if you still want one). Boris Johnson is also known for an article he wrote in Telegraph in 2013, where he questioned climate science.

Johnson's role is a bit ambiguous because as Mayor of London he had participated in the Paris climate conference last year, including meeting mayors from around the world to find ways to make cities sustainable. But if the Brexit voters are anything to go by, Johnson may not be too favourable to the climate. Brexit has already given a fillip to climate deniers, both Johnson and Trump in power would be a major boost.

Also read - Brexit is on: Britain votes to leave the EU - experts respond

Promoting fracking

Both Trump and Johnson are in favour of fracking - a method to extract natural gas (shale gas). Although gas is a non-polluting source of energy, fracking itself emits large amounts of greenhouse gases, besides polluting water sources. Studies that forecasted found that overall CO2 emissions will rise with the higher availability of cheaper shale. In December 2015, Johnson as mayor allowed fracking in national parks.

Changing politics

The UK, although a minor emitter, is a major economy. Its position at international climate negotiations was so far within the European Union. Now that it's outside, UK will be a separate entity to deal with. If a climate skeptic like Johnson becomes PM, that can mean nuisance value. The UK can join the 'Umbrella group', a developed nations lobby in the UN climate conferences, of which the US is a member.

Also read - In numbers: the few gains and many losses from Brexit

Changing commitments

Before the Paris Agreement, countries had to submit their individual commitments to cut global warming, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contribution or INDC. The EU gave an INDC for all its members. UK would need to submit its own, and if Johnson wishes, these will can be less ambitious. Worse, the new government can ignore these commitments altogether, since they are not legally binding.

Uncertain future of Paris agreement

Trump has said that he will cancel the Paris Agreement. The UK has not yet ratified the Paris Agreement, and the Brexit will likely delay the process. Once the new establishment in in place, it's an open question where the ratification would be on Johnson's priority list.

First published: 29 June 2016, 9:03 IST
Nihar Gokhale @nihargokhale

Nihar is a reporter with Catch, writing about the environment, water, and other public policy matters. He wrote about stock markets for a business daily before pursuing an interdisciplinary Master's degree in environmental and ecological economics. He likes listening to classical, folk and jazz music and dreams of learning to play the saxophone.