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Storm warning: how Donald Trump may derail the climate change fight

Nihar Gokhale | Updated on: 18 November 2016, 21:58 IST

In November 2012, Donald J Trump posted one of his most-quoted tweets: "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." Four years later, he is the president-elect of the United States.

Now, the question arises: does Trump still think climate change is a hoax? During his presidential campaign, Trump had said that if elected he would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which was signed by 196 nations in December 2015 to keep global warming under two degrees Celsius. Then, he appointed a climate change denier to lead the transition at the Environment Protection Agency. Recently, a Reuters report followed rumours that Trump was planning to withdraw from the very international convention that led to the agreement.

Exiting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change takes a year, exiting the Paris Agreement takes four.

This has followed rumours that Trump's announcement would come any day now.

What future are we staring at? Trump's election has caused anxieties at the UNFCCC conference underway at Marrakech, Morocco, where the countries who signed the Paris Agreement are meeting to figure out how to implement it.

Here is why they are worried.


The US is the world's second largest emitter of greenhouse gases. In 2010, its share of the world's emissions was 15.6%, after China's 22.7%. As a party to the Paris Agreement, the US has promised to cut its emissions by 26-28% on the 2005 level by 2025. However, these promises are not legally binding.

If Trump decides to not continue with the Paris Agreement, it will be a direct loss to the global fight against global warming.

Already, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have passed the crucial 400 ppm concentration. Even adding all the promises made by countries to reduce their emissions, global warming is poised to cross 3 degrees C, a dangerous level. With the US gone from the fight, the effort to bring this level down to 2 degrees C gets that much more daunting.


The US is the largest historical emitter. This means that its emissions since the 18th century have been the highest, and these emissions continue to play a role in causing climate change to this day. For this reason, countries such as the US are expected to give finance and technology to countries like India to deal with already existing effects of climate change, and also to transition to carbon-friendly economies.

The US has pledged $3 billion to a $100-billion Green Climate Fund. It has also committed to funding the fight against climate change through bilateral agreements as well as through multilateral agencies such as the International Monetary Fund.

This means the US' pullout can also hamper other countries' efforts to reduce global warming.

"The momentum and mood of the Paris Agreement has been affected," said Harjeet Singh, International Climate Policy Manager at ActionAid India. Singh said in the absence of the US, countries will look to the European Union to take the lead on funding.

Meanwhile, in the wake of reports that Trump could pull out of climate negotiations, clean energy companies as well as some countries have given statements that they will put in their best in the fight.

Nearly 400 businesses based in the US have written an open letter to Trump to continue low carbon policies and to not pull out of the Paris Agreement. "Implementing the Paris Agreement will enable and encourage businesses and investors to turn the billions of dollars in existing low-carbon investments into the trillions of dollars the world needs to bring clean energy and prosperity to all," the letter said.

China, the largest carbon emitter in the world today, has also voiced its concerns, and retorted that climate change is far from a Chinese hoax. "If you look at the history of climate change negotiations, actually it was initiated by the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] with the support of the Republicans during the Reagan and senior Bush administration during the late 1980s," China's vice foreign minister, Liu Zhenmin, said on 16 November.

First published: 18 November 2016, 21:58 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.