National Column: World will battle climate change sans Donald Trump

by Thomas Walkom

If U.S. president-elect Donald Trump keeps his word, America will soon pull out of the fight against global warming. Canada and other signatories to last year’s climate-change accord say they will carry on.

Without the U.S., do they have a chance?

Certainly, Trump has shown that he has no time for global warming. He has called it a “hoax.”

He has said it is “based on faulty science and manipulated data.”

He has been particularly scornful whenever the weather turns cold.

In one oft-quoted tweet, he said (incorrectly) that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

He has vowed to terminate President Barack Obama’s executive actions aimed at reducing carbon emissions from power plants. And he has said he will walk away from the 2015 Paris climate accord.

In short, he’s been pretty clear.

Given that the U.S. is the world’s second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, this appears to pose a real problem for those trying to fight climate change.

Still, the world carries on. At an international climate-change summit in Marrakech, Morocco, last week, delegates issued a proclamation confirming the Paris accord and pledging that the battle against global warming would continue to be a matter of “urgent priority.”

Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Ottawa will forge ahead with its plans to reduce carbon emissions by, in one way or another, taxing them.

China’s delegate to the conference said tackling climate change is “a global trend that is irreversible.” His remarks were echoed by delegates from all the big emitters, including India, the European Union, Japan, the Middle Eastern oil states and Brazil.

In part, the world’s decision to carry on with the Paris accord is made easier by the fact that the agreement itself is so weak. It allows countries to set their own emission targets and provides no penalties for those that fail to meet them.

A recent report from the United Nations Environment Program calculates that the commitments made to date under the Paris agreement are well below what is needed to stave off global catastrophe. Some, like Canada, are not even on track to meet the modest carbon reduction commitments they have made.

But the other factor at play is that fighting climate change has finally become a profitable business activity. China in particular is cashing in. The Chinese invested $103 billion in renewable energy last year, more than one-third of the world’s total.

The UN reports that, as solar and wind technology evolve, the price of renewable energy is coming down around the world.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau describes his climate-change strategy as good economics. Indeed, at times it seems to be more about economics than climate. How else to explain the government’s recent decision authorizing a Pacific coast liquefied natural gas project that is destined to massively increase carbon emissions?

Still, the Liberal government seems intent on pursuing its somewhat inconsistent climate-change policy with or without the U.S. That is new.

When U.S. president George W. Bush withdrew from the Kyoto accord on climate change in 2001, he effectively killed the treaty. There was no country able to take America’s place.

On top of this, Canada was reluctant to take any action that might put its businesses at a competitive disadvantage vis-‡-vis the U.S.

Optimists say matters have changed since then. York University climate-change expert Mark Winfield argues Trump will find it more difficult than he thinks to undo everything Obama has put in place.

More to the point, there is China. It wants to be recognized as a world leader. It is willing to spend money to achieve that goal.

It is attracted to renewable energy in part to deal with its own coal-based smog pollution. But it also sees renewable energy as part of a long-run industrial strategy.

Will all of this be enough to prevent the coastal flooding and extreme weather associated with climate change? I’d be reluctant to buy any properties on the Florida seaboard.

But in spite of Trump, there is still a chance the world will survive without climate-induced mayhem.

A chance.

Thomas Walkom appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Copyright 2016-Torstar Syndication Services

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