Having just assumed charge as the president of the United States, climate-sceptic Donald Trump would do well to pay heed to new data on global warming which show 2016 was the hottest year since 1880. Previously, 2015 and 2014 were the hottest years. While global surface warming had slowed between 1998 and 2013—that led to the misconception that there was an overall warming “hiatus”—the heat extremes ever since are just a glimpse of the acute threat global warming and climate change pose. Autumn in the Arctic last year saw temperatures 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, as per a New York Times report. While, with the Paris accord on climate change reached between 194 nations in 2015, the global community had finally committed to reasonable action on controlling climate change, Trump’s position on global warming and his Cabinet picks, especially for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the secretary of state, has made advocates of climate action quite wary.
Global carbon emissions growth has been slowing—from 2% in 2013, it fell to 1.1% in 2014, before declining by 0.1% in 2015. This has largely been on the back of a slowing China, which, in keeping with its reduction commitments, cut emissions by 0.7% in 2015 compared to 2014. The US too has been moving in this direction, cutting emissions by 2.6%; developing nations including India, in keeping with the “shared but differentiated responsibilities” principle, have been allowed to go slow on emissions reduction, though. Given that global growth decoupled from CO2 emissions in 2015—the global economy grew despite the fall in emissions—it is clear a climate-friendly growth path is possible. However, with the Trump administration having publicly stated that it will relook the US’s Clean Power Plan—this aims to cut carbon emissions from coal and gas-fired power plants by 30% of the 2005 levels by 2030—and secretary of state-designate Rex Tillerson (formerly CEO and chair of Exxon Mobil) wanting a front seat at all climate negotiations, chances are it would not be long before the world is back to the pre-Paris accord days.
Given the federal nature of governance in the US, states are free to enact their own laws on environment, and thus it may not be that easy for president Trump to completely over-run pro-climate policies. But he holds most of the aces especially since, with the Clean Power Plan being challenged in the DC Circuit Court, it is up to him to defend it; even if the Circuit Court sends it back to the EPA, that’s going to be headed by a Trump nominee. As the Trump government does what others fear it eventually will, it has to remember that its hammy climate change denial will exact a much larger price than, say, that paid by American manufacturing if there are curbs on emissions. If the new data doesn’t convince the new government in the US, there is no telling how worse the fate of the planet could get.