Climate change, we can now assert with absolute certainty, exist and is a global problem. Mitigation and adaptation from it poses important challenges on the international and domestic front. A two-prong approach is thus required from every Nation.
During the previous Obama administration China and the U.S. have been at the forefront of this challenge, establishing themselves as leaders abroad and at home in proposing effective solutions to mitigate and adapt to the phenomenon.
However, the 2016 election of Trump as 45th President of the United States signaled a change of pace in American leadership on Climate Change policy at home and abroad. There has been in fact a change of a value statement, the U.S. federal government is no longer interested in fighting Climate Change. The efforts put in under the Obama leadership will thus be put on hold to the country’s detriment.
In the past two years there haven’t been any significant initiatives to combat Climate Change. On the contrary, Obama’s key domestic and international initiatives in limiting carbon emission through the Clean Power Plant, the Higher Motor Vehicle Mileage Standard and, the Paris Agreement under the UNFCCC have been systematically attacked.
On the domestic front, the government has ordered a complete repeal and rework of Obama’s signature Climate Policy Plan. In particular, the Administrations seeks to repeal rules regarding fracking on public lands and coal leases on federal land to revitalize the declining coal industry. It seeks agencies to reconsider the social cost on carbon. It rescinds an important Obama era order requiring agencies to consider the impact of Climate Change in their environmental permitting process. And, its undoes key executive orders to make the federal government better prepared to handle the consequences of Climate Change.
While these orders are being branded has job creators, in reality it sends the message that, Climate Change is no longer a priority when making policy decisions.
On the international front, the withdrawal of U.S. support in implementing the Paris Agreement signals a substantial decline in American leadership in international Climate Policy. The move while reinforcing the view of the current Administration on the issue of Climate Change, will inflict harm on global cooperation with other countries on the issue and, it will most likely shift the intellectual and political leadership of the process from the U.S. to China.
Three concurring factors (John C. Berg) have worked against the current Administration best efforts:
- President Trump -like Obama before him- has found it hard to get the Congress to pass laws. For this reason, he had to rely on other means like executive orders, regulatory decisions and executive agreement both abroad and at home.
- Policies implemented through executive actions cannot be easily repealed through another executive action. These regulations were issued with substantive criteria and procedural requirement specified by law, if the correct procedures and criteria are not followed these can be subject to legal challenges.
- Most States and Energy sectors have shifted the action on themselves thus challenging federal action policy. Current State, Federal, and Administrative law on Energy and the Environment requires notification and review and it is hard to reverse. They understand current federal policy as a temporary setback and, since the energy sector is slow to change, it is in their best interest to push forward climate conservation policies.
Nonetheless, the Trump Administration can neutralise the above factors by gutting environmental agencies or by reducing their sizes and, by installing political appointees in key environmental sectors. And, it can attempt to stack the Courts with judges who will turn down environmental lawsuits.
Both things are already happening, however it will not likely change the underlining law, only slow it down. With regards to regulations, while these will likely be considerably weakened over time, they will still be somewhat stronger than before Obama’s signature Climate Policy Plan.