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U.S. President Donald Trump’s Take on Climate Change

Trump's backpedaling on the U.S. commitment raises questions about the prospects.

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The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyoming. VOA
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“I’m not going to put the country out of business trying to maintain certain standards that probably don’t matter,” President Donald Trump told VOA when asked about the economic impacts of climate change.

When not denying its existence, the Trump administration’s approach to
climate change essentially comes down to three arguments: the United States has already cut its greenhouse gas emissions more than other countries, regardless of any international agreement; regulations to cut emissions come with high costs and few benefits; and those regulations would put the United States at a disadvantage because other countries will not follow.

“When you look at China, and when you look at other countries where they have foul air,” Trump added, “we’re going to be clean, but they’re not, and it costs a lot of money.”

As U.N. climate negotiations get under way in Poland to work out rules for implementing the Paris climate agreement — from which Trump intends to withdraw the United States — experts weigh in on the administration’s claims.

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A bus gives off exhaust fumes in Alexandria, Virginia. VOA

Emissions cuts

It’s true that the United States has reduced its greenhouse gas production more than any other country. U.S. emissions peaked in 2005. In the last decade, they have fallen by about 13 percent, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

But the United States was the world’s leading producer of greenhouse gases until 2006. And, others have made bigger cuts by percentage. Hungary’s levels, for example, decreased 14 percent.

U.S. emissions started to fall when the fracking boom took off.

The new technique of hydraulic fracturing turned the United States into a major natural gas producer. As the price of natural gas has dropped, it has been steadily replacing coal as the dominant fuel for electricity generation. Because burning natural gas produces far less carbon dioxide than coal, greenhouse gas emissions have decreased.

More recently, renewable sources such as solar and wind power have started to make inroads on the power grid.

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U.S. President Donald Trump. VOA

While U.S. emissions have fallen since the 2000s, China’s have soared.

The country pursued astonishing economic growth with an enormous investment in coal-fired power plants. China is now the leading producer of greenhouse gases by far, roughly doubling U.S. output.

Cost-benefit

Trump has argued that regulations aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions would hobble the U.S. economy. He has moved to undo the Obama administration’s proposed rules on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and efficiency standards for vehicles and appliances, among others.

Critics question whether those regulations would cost as much Trump suggests.

“None of these policies were going to have dramatic increases in the prices that consumers would see,” Duke University public policy professor Billy Pizer said. He added that normal price swings would likely swamp the cost of the regulations Trump targets.

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Paris depends on countries following through on increasingly ambitious emissions cuts. Pixabay

The emissions reductions the Obama administration pledged in Paris “were built largely on a continuation of the coal-to-gas transition and a continuation of growth in renewable energy that’s already happening,” said Alex Trembath of the Breakthrough Institute research center. As such, he added, they “don’t imply a large cost. In fact, they imply a marginal increased benefit to the U.S.”

Those benefits come, for example, because burning less coal produces less air pollution, which lowers health costs.

Not to mention the direct results of climate change: wildfires, floods, droughts and so on.

“We have enough science and enough economics to show that there are damages resulting from us releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. We know that that is not a free thing,” University of Chicago public policy professor Amir Jina said. “And yet, we are artificially setting it as free because we’re not paying the price of that externality.”

He said economists nearly unanimously support a carbon tax, a cap-and-trade program or some other way to put a price on carbon emissions.

Collective action

Few nations have taken the necessary steps to meet the emissions reduction pledges they made in Paris, according to the most recent United Nations emissions gap report.

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Developed countries are being urged to honour Paris Agreement. Flickr

Even those pledges would fall far short of the Paris goal of limiting global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, the report adds. Reaching that target will take “unprecedented and urgent action.” A 2016 report said an additional $5.2 trillion investment in renewable energy will be necessary worldwide over the next 25 years.

Trump’s statement — “we’re going to be clean, but they’re not, and it costs a lot of money” — sums up why nations are reluctant to act: no one wants to take on burdens that they think others won’t.

“It’s the thing which has been dogging action on climate change for generations,” Jina said.

“We only really solve the problem if everybody acts together,” he added. “And if enough people are not acting, then we don’t.”

Paris depends on countries following through on increasingly ambitious emissions cuts.

Each country decides what it is willing to do. Every five years, countries come together and show their progress.

Climate Change, Trump, disasters
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. VOA

“You over time build confidence in each other,” Pizer said. “Ideally, you ratchet up the commitments as you see your actions reciprocated by other countries.”

Trump’s backpedaling on the U.S. commitment raises questions about the prospects.

However, the first of these check-ins is five years away. Trump can’t formally withdraw the United States from the agreement until 2020.

Also Read: Paris Adopts Climate Action Plan, Aims to Achieve a ‘Zero-Carbon’ Future

Pizer notes that the predecessor to the Paris Agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, failed in part because it imposed caps on countries’ carbon emissions, and most of the world balked.

“In my mind, this is the best we can do,” he said. “If there were a different way to do it, I’d be all over that.” (VOA)

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U.N. Donald Trump’s Impeachment may be Possible: Key Lawmaker

Comey testified to a House panel on Friday about his role in 2016 election-related investigations of Trump's campaign.

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House Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., arrives for a House Judiciary hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 7, 2017, on oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. VOA

A key U.S. lawmaker said Sunday that Democrats in the House of Representatives could pursue impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump, saying that the U.S. leader had “surrounded himself with crooks” and was part of a broad “conspiracy against the American people” to win the 2016 election.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat set to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee when Democrats take control of the chamber next month, told CNN that lawmakers have to decide “how important” allegations are against Trump, but should pursue impeachment charges “only for serious offenses.”

U.S.A., Trump
In these 2018 photos, Paul Manafort leaves federal court in Washington, left and attorney Michael Cohen leaves federal court in New York. VOA

Nadler offered his thoughts two days after federal prosecutors accused former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, “in coordination with and at the direction” of Trump, of orchestrating $280,000 in hush money payments shortly before the 2016 election to two women who alleged they had affairs with Trump so they would stay silent before Election Day.

Nadler said that if proven, the allegations against Trump were “certainly impeachable offenses.” That could lead to his removal from office, if the Senate were to convict him by at least a two-thirds vote, a doubtful proposition with Republican control of the Senate continuing in the Congress that takes office in January.

Nadler said lawmakers will have “to look at all this,” along with weighing what special counsel Robert Mueller concludes about allegations that Trump and his campaign colluded with Russia to help him win and that, as president, Trump obstructed justice by trying to thwart the ongoing 19-month probe.

The U.S. Justice Department has a standing guideline against indicting sitting presidents, although they can be charged after leaving office. Nadler said, however, “There’s nothing in the Constitution that prohibits the president from being indicted. Nobody should be above the law.”

U.S.A., Trump
Stormy Daniels speaks during a ceremony for her in West Hollywood, Calif.. VOA

Trump has dismissed the latest allegations against him in connection with the payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal and allegations of Trump campaign contacts with Russia to help him win the election.

He used Twitter on Monday to repeat his frequent statement of “NO COLLUSION” between his campaign and Russia.

“So now the Dems go to a simple private transaction, wrongly call it a campaign contribution,” Trump said. He went on to say “it was done correctly and there would not even be a fine,” further adding that if there were any problems then Cohen would be the one who was liable.

“Cohen just trying to get his sentence reduced,” Trump said.

Trump has called for the end to the Mueller probe, but a Republican lawmaker, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, told ABC News, “I’ve always supported the Mueller investigation and continue to do so because I think it’s in the best interest of everyone involved, including, by the way, the president.”

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Seven-page government sentencing document for Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer. VOA

Aside from Cohen, who is set to be sentenced Wednesday and faces several years of imprisonment, Mueller so far has secured guilty pleas or won convictions of Trump’s first national security adviser, his former campaign manager, his former deputy campaign manager, a foreign policy adviser and other lesser figures.

On Sunday, Trump assailed former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, whom Trump fired while he was heading the Russia investigation before Mueller was named to lead the probe.

U.S.A. Trump
Former FBI Director James Comey, with his attorney, David Kelley, right, speaks to reporters after a day of testimony before the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, on Capitol Hill in Washington. VOA

Comey testified to a House panel on Friday about his role in 2016 election-related investigations of Trump’s campaign and that of his challenger, Democrat Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state.

Also Read: SpaceX Drops Plan To Make its Falcon 9 Even More Reusable

“On 245 occasions, former FBI Director James Comey told House investigators he didn’t know, didn’t recall, or couldn’t remember things when asked,” Trump claimed on Twitter.

“Leakin’ James Comey must have set a record for who lied the most to Congress in one day. His Friday testimony was so untruthful! This whole deal is a Rigged Fraud headed up by dishonest people who would do anything so that I could not become President. They are now exposed!” (VOA)