Will Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris climate change agreement tip the world into fiery catastrophe? The extraordinary unity of the rest of the world’s nations in tackling global warming, allied with the booming green economy, driven by plummeting renewable energy costs, are strong reasons to think not. A much more likely casualty of Trump’s choice is the US economy he claims to be protecting: America’s brilliance at innovation, investment and building businesses will no longer have its government’s support. The prize of leadership in the 21st-century economy could be sacrificed in a doomed attempt to revive the fossil-fuelled economy of the 20th century.
However much Trump “digs coal”, he cannot force companies to build coal-fired power stations if wind and solar are cheaper and executives are smart enough to realise that a billion-dollar bet on a new plant – likely to be closed by Trump’s successor – is not a winner. Instead, US states and cities will continue to pursue the green future that secures clean air, water and the promise of climate stability for their citizens. That is no small deal: combined together, California and New York City would be the fourth biggest economy in the world.
Climate change is, of course, a global issue but, around the globe, leaders from China to India to Russia to the European Union have lined up to reassert their commitment to confronting the greatest challenge faced by civilisation. Most remarkable is China, the world’s biggest polluter, which has transitioned from climate laggard to climate leader in recent years.
Can China be relied upon to match its words with action? The answer is yes, because its determination is not founded on lofty altruism but the hard-headed need to protect its vast population from the air pollution and looming water and food problems that stem from carbon emissions. Furthermore, China is coming to dominate the supply of renewable energy technology.
But the US pullout still undoubtedly brings risks for the rest of the world. There are lots of possible pathways to the zero-emission global economy needed in the second half of this century to avoid the “severe, widespread and irreversible impacts” warned of by the world’s scientists. But the best is to start early, with global carbon emissions starting to fall by 2020. Even a flattening of the decline in US carbon emissions – if not compensated for by other nations – will slow progress and might bump up global warming by a tenth of a degree or two. That could be enough to push the most vulnerable nations under the waves of a rising ocean.
A rogue US, exporting goods manufactured with dirty energy, might tempt other nations to weaken their climate commitments in order to compete, although there is no sign of this at present. Alternatively, other countries could punish the US with heavy carbon taxes on its exports. But that would prompt retaliation, with unpredictable consequences. The US has also been a major funder of climate aid programmes, which have been vital in winning over developing nations that view global warming as a crisis inflicted on them by industrialised nations. Billions more will have to be contributed by the richest nations.
But the breakthrough in Paris – getting the unanimous agreement of 196 nations to tackle climate change together – remains a deceptively solid foundation for beating global warming, a task that will take decades not years. German environment minister Barbara Hendricks said on Thursday: “The world’s climate will survive for eight years without the US.” But, despite the good reasons for optimism, a one-term Trump presidency would be even safer.
· Source http://tiny.cc/95elly