What are Donald Trump’s policies on climate change and environment issues?

17 January 2017

What is Donald Trump's position on the environment? Our experts report on Trump's policies on climate change, fracking, renewable energy, the Paris Agreement and trade.

Donald Trump has threatened to pull out of all international climate treaties, dismantle the US Environmental Protection Agency, and is on record saying that global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese to attack US manufacturing.

The growing impacts of climate change are extremely serious and urgent. It is catastrophic that the person at the helm of the world’s largest economy is ignoring that science requires immediate action, and is willing to spin a ludicrous fairytale about the whole thing being a fiendish foreign conspiracy.

We are in for the fight of our lives. Trump has both a Republican Senate and Republican Congress who have been supported by the fossil fuel industry. Trump has also surrounded himself with fossil-fuel sympathisers to whisper in his ear.

Here’s what we can tell so far about Donald Trump’s position on climate change, energy, the Paris Agreement and trade.

What is Donald Trump’s policy on climate change?

Trump has changed his policy tack a number of times on climate change. In 2009 he was part of a business coalition telling President Obama: “If we fail to act now, it is scientifically irrefutable that there will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet”.

But by 2012 he was calling climate change a Chinese hoax, even though the international agreement was kick-started by a Republican president. And during the 2016 election campaign he went further and threatened to pull out of all climate negotiations and treaties.

Although he has since said he has “an open mind”, and agreed “there is some connectivity” between human activity and climate change he has appointed a cabinet full of climate deniers and fossil fuel hangers-on, including ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.

Donald Trump and the fossil fuel industry

Trump’s closest energy advisors all have very strong links to either the fossil fuel industry or climate denial outfits. Trump has nominated long-time climate denier Rick Perry for Energy Secretary, and the CEO of ExxonMobil Rex Tillerson as his top diplomat, in the Secretary of State role.

The nominee for the Environmental Protection Agency is currently suing the agency to overturn President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Trump’s Secretary of the Interior is a big booster of coal who has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from the industry.  

Trump vs climate: which side are you on?

What is Donald Trump’s policy on the Paris Agreement?

Demonstrating at the Paris climate talks, December 2015
Demonstrating at the UN climate talks in Paris, France, December 2015

During the election campaign Trump said he would pull out of the United Nations Paris Climate Agreement. This agreement has been signed by 194 countries, and aims to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

For legal reasons it might take him 4 years to pull out of the Paris Agreement. So it might be quicker to pull out of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the overarching treaty within which the Paris Agreement sits. That might just take a year.

While Trump’s top choice for top Diplomat, Rex Tillerson, has supported the Paris agreement as head of ExxonMobil, he has also dismissed climate change as an “engineering problem”.

Mr Trump remains the sole head of state who denies the reality of climate change. No matter what the outcome, other nations will need to lead the way and use every diplomatic and economic tool at their disposal to compel the US to act.

Trump and the US should play its full part in making the Paris Agreement work for all countries.

The world must unify in treating Trump as a pariah and not as an excuse for inaction 

Erich Pica, Friends of the Earth US

What is Donald Trump’s policy on energy?

The signature theme of Donald Trump’s emerging energy policy mirrors that of the Republican Party – energy independence and energy security based on fossil fuels. That means using American fossil fuel energy resources to the full. The priority is clear: “America is sitting on a treasure trove of untapped energy. In fact, America possesses more combined coal, oil, and natural gas resources than any other nation on Earth.”

There are 3 main proposals so far to realise this vision.

First, ending the current moratorium on coal mining leases. Second, fast-tracking new fossil fuel proposals and supporting new fossil fuel infrastructure. And third, scrapping regulations including President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

Coal production in Wyoming, USA
Coal production in Wyoming, USA, by iStock

What is Donald Trump’s policy on renewable energy?

Trump has long stated his opposition to wind and solar.

Fortunately much of the advancement that has taken place in renewable energy is happening in the private market and is not dependent on support from the federal government. Even without subsidies or a price on carbon, renewable energy is cheaper than coal and cost competitive with natural gas in the US.

This means that renewable technologies will continue to thrive – they are a huge growth sector.

Wind turbines, Texas , USA
Wind turbines, Texas, by iStock

What is Donald Trump’s policy on fracking?

Trump is pro-fracking, just as he is pro-coal. At least, his advisers are. But it will be difficult for him to bring back the jobs in coal country. The economics of coal mean that the industry is in deep trouble – and in the US the growth of the fracking industry and renewable energy has been a major cause of its difficulties.

To get coal back on its feet, Trump would need to change the economics. The pro-coal Australian prime-minister has found that being pro-coal isn’t enough if the investors won’t put in their money. Ramping up the coal industry would require billions in subsidies from the federal government.

If we want to keep global warming below even 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, we already have more coal, oil and gas in production globally than we can safely burn (pdf).

The President should move away from both fracking and coal, and focus on America’s even bigger renewable energy resources. There is greater potential for jobs and the manufacturing industry in renewables than in fossil fuels.

Where are we headed?

The details of Trump’s energy policy are still unclear, but the signals are not good. So many fossil fuel lobbyists at the heart of his team bodes badly for the millions of Americans and billions of people worldwide who want and need stronger action on climate from the world’s largest economy.

But it is not all bad news. The growth of renewable energy is now unstoppable. And millions of Americans are determined to fight all the way, together, for a clean, prosperous country safe from pollution and climate change. This last point is why ultimately the fossil fuel lobbyists will lose.

“The world must unify in treating Trump as a pariah and not as an excuse for inaction, says Erich Pica, Friends of the Earth US.

Join the millions around the world doing all they can to ensure that one man cannot wreck decades of work to stop the climate crisis.

Trump vs climate: which side are you on?

What are Donald Trump’s policies on trade and the environment? 

Misleading newspaper headlines suggest that Donald Trump has seemingly declared war on US trade agreements.

Trump has said he’ll scrap a recently negotiated Trans Pacific Partnership deal and renegotiate the USA’s North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, because those deals are too generous to US trading partners and encourage the off-shoring of US manufacturing  – not because they threaten climate, environmental and other public interest regulations.

Trump has not opposed or even made a clear statement regarding 2 agreements still under negotiation, the:

  • Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal with the EU and
  • Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) with the EU, Japan, and 21 other countries.

The TTIP is primarily about rolling back public interest and environmental regulation and ramping up US fossil fuel exports.

The TiSA does not deal with trade in goods at all, and is intended to roll back or at least block new regulation related to financial services, climate, the environment or the public interest generally.  

What Trump has said is that he wants to significantly increase US production and export of coal, oil and gas – as well as roll back public interest regulation across the board.

TTIP and TiSA appear to be the kind of deals Trump likes, although it is conceivable that he would prefer a more radical program of deregulation and fossil fuel export promotion.  

It’s hard to envision a future Trumpian US trade policy built on anything other than jingoism, greed and ignorance of environmental and climate science.  

Thus, the idea that any of Trump’s  proposed trade deals – including any future deal with the UK – will be better for the environment, people and planet than those he is promising to tear up is almost certainly nonsense.  

Brexit and Donald Trump: 5 reasons why UK farmers should be concerned about a rushed trade deal with the US

Reporting team: US and UK climate campaign teams, Sam Lowe. Thanks to Ben Schreiber and Bill Warren. 

First published 10 January 2017

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