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Trump and Climate Change: From COP22 to the G7

Brittaney Warren, G7 Research Group
November 18, 2016

Donald Trump's election has many speculating, with most fearful, about what his leadership means for the state of the climate. These fears are not unfounded, as Trump has publicly stated that climate change is a Chinese hoax and is surrounding himself with likeminded individuals, including Myron Ebell, chosen to lead the Environmental Protection Agency's transition team and who believes climate change is a myth. Yet although Trump's administrative choices are helping to solidify concerns that he will follow through with his campaign promise to pull the United States out of the recently ratified Paris Agreement, some are more hopeful. At the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), being held in Marrakesh from November 7-18, 2016, to discuss ways to move forward with implementing the Paris Agreement, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that climate change action was "unstoppable." Other leaders, including those representing the Group of Seven (G7), are committed to addressing climate change via the Paris Agreement, suggesting that Trump may have difficulty dismissing climate change when he meets with his G7 counterparts in Italy on May 26-27, 2016, for his first summit.  

This broad support for the Paris Agreement, coming not only from world leaders but also from the business community and civil society, could prove to be a formidable obstacle for Donald Trump, especially given his support for climate change via his personal investments, however indirect. In June 2015 six major oil and gas companies sent an open letter to France's foreign minister Laurent Fabius, host of COP21, which produced the Paris Agreement, and to Christiana Figueres, outgoing UNFCCC executive secretary, in which they recognized "the importance of the climate challenge … to human life and well-being" and called for governments to impose a carbon tax. Of those six companies, Trump holds stocks in four. One of those companies is Royal Dutch Shell, whose mandate includes fostering a clean energy future and whose website includes a feature piece on "keeping momentum after Paris." Donald Trump's other stockholdings include technology companies, such as United Technologies (UTC), which has developed a 2020 Sustainability Goals plan to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 15% by 2020 keeping "UTC on a path consistent with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) target of 80 percent lower GHG emissions by 2050." Trump has also made at least one direct investment in climate change adaptation in his application to build a sea wall to protect his Ireland-based golf course from the effects of sea-level rise. Trump's money trail suggests — not out of line with the Paris Agreement — that he may yet find reason in investing in climate adaptation measures, and in green infrastructure and technology despite his rhetoric.

The Paris Agreement, however, has attracted criticism beyond the United States and Trump, as it fails to include specific measures to address the causes of climate change, particularly the burning of fossil fuels for energy, with reports showing that even full implementation would not be enough to limit global warming. Indeed, while it is significant that the global community has come together to agree that climate change is "urgent," "potentially irreversible" and "requires the widest possible cooperation by all countries," it is undermined by the agreement itself, which notes "with concern" that should all countries meet their intended nationally determined contributions (targets set by countries to reduce GHG emissions at the national level), an additional 55 gigatonnes of emissions will be released into the atmosphere. This would bring global temperatures to 6°C by 2050, far outstripping the Earth's capacity to adequately sustain life. It is telling that even with Donald Trump's full support of the Paris Agreement, global temperatures would still be on a trajectory to surpass the Earth's carbon budget.

It will thus be up to the rest of the world, starting with the G7 summit as the first international meeting Trump will attend as president, to find opportunities for collaboration and progress and to set an example for a climate-skeptical United States to follow. There is much the G7 can do, starting with divesting from fossil fuels and leapfrogging to renewable energy. Most recent estimates by the International Monetary Fund show that global fossil fuel subsidies have reached $5.3 trillion annually, having dire implications on the health of the environment and global population. Yet, with a new deadline to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 made at the G7 summit in Ise-Shima, Japan, in May 2016, it is hoped that progress here will be accelerated and the 6°C burn avoided.

In Italy, the G7 should provide strong, urgent leadership in the form of concise, politically binding commitments; promote strong science-based climate policies and action plans; and support strengthening the Paris Agreement so that its implementation will mitigate against the current and coming consequences of a rapidly changing climate.

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Brittaney WarrenBrittaney Warren is a researcher with the G7 and G8 Research Group, the G20 Research Group and the BRICS Research Group, based at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Trinity College at the University of Toronto. She has worked in Spain and in Peru where she conducted field research on a sustainable development project with women living in extreme poverty. She has conducted research on the compliance of CARICOM members with their summit commitments on non-communicable diseases. Brittaney leads the social media strategy and marketing program for the G7 and G20 Research Groups' books and works on climate change, and was the lead researcher on an e-book project on "Delivering Sustainable Energy Access." Follow her at @brittaneywarren.


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