US President Donald Trump is committed to delivering his campaign promises to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and stop funding for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Speaking at a press briefing in London on 30 January, Myron Ebell, who oversaw the Environmental Protection Agency transition team but has returned to his role as a director at the Center for Energy and Environment, said Trump was aiming to leverage US coal and shale resources to achieve “global dominance” in energy supply. For Ebell, this is not only part of a drive to make American manufacturing more competitive via lower energy costs – which appears to be Ebell and Trump’s primary concern – but an attempt to reshape global politics.
According to Ebell, Trump could withdraw from the Paris Agreement “tomorrow” by executive order – because it has not yet been ratified by the Senate – or it could happen later as part of a wider package. However, some environmental law experts argue the US would remain a party for four years and possibly bound to its procedural commitment. Withdrawing from the UNFCCC could be quicker, taking around a year, and would likely automatically result in leaving the Paris Agreement.
Ebell, who has never met Trump, argues that the president made it clear in his campaign that he does not believe climate change is an imminent threat or requires a drastic decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. Trump is mainly concerned with US energy independence, which he appears to associate predominantly with fossil fuels. Nobody can say how interested he is in pushing this agenda globally; it may depend on how far the administration feels international regulation is holding back US business.
One vulnerable agreement might be the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Arrangement on Officially Supported Export Credits, which in November 2015 agreed to restrict export credits to coal power projects. This agreement, to which the US is a signatory, followed two years of negotiation and has made funding coal power projects globally, and in Africa in particular, significantly more difficult.
Ebell also hinted that the government may argue Barack Obama’s transfer of $500m to the Green Climate Fund in his final days in office was illegal. Ebell said a 1993 law passed by Bill Clinton makes it illegal for the US to fund any organisation that accepts Palestine as a member in the capacity of a state. Palestine acceded to the UNFCCC in December 2015. Whether this line of argument would succeed in court is not clear, nor is it obvious the money could be reclaimed.
It is also unknown how far a Trump administration might throw its considerable weight in international organisations and multilateral finance institutions against efforts to fund climate mitigation and adaptation, and renewable energy. Ebell told African Energy: “Most of the climate change in Africa is cyclical. In order to deal with the challenges posed by climate change, societies need wealth, technological capability, and abundant energy. Policies that promote more economic growth in Africa will do more to build resilience than policies that perpetuate energy poverty.”
But the views of people connected with Trump’s administration so far have been extreme, to say the least. Ebell suggested the fact that his chief of staff, Steve Bannon, hired climate change sceptic James Delingpole to the Breitbart website team in London – where he claimed in March last year that “climate change is the biggest scam in the history of the world” – should be taken as indicative. Ebell said there had been a reluctance to consider the positive impact of increased greenhouse gas emissions while claiming the green movement was “the greatest threat to freedom” the world faces. Trump’s nominee for head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, opposes regulating emissions, while his energy secretary nominee, Rick Perry, has previously called for the energy department to be dissolved.
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