CWA Commentary

Photo Source: New York Times
   NIAS Course on Global Politics
National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS)
Indian Institute of Science Campus, Bangalore
For any further information or to subscribe to GP alerts send an email to subachandran@nias.res.in
Print Bookmark

CWA # 428, 21 February 2021

Climate Change
Trump’s Climate Change legacy: Disruption and Denial

  Abigail Miriam Fernandez

The Trump administrative spent its term assaulting every mechanism protecting the environment, his legacy will be seen as one one of disruption and denial.

Trump spent his term assaulting every mechanism that was protecting the environment. His administration systematically weakened climate regulations, bolstered the use of fossil fuels that drive rising temperatures, and side-lined government climate science and scientists. As a result, these actions have set the country behind on the vital work of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to keep the worst impacts of climate change, proving to be one of the most profound legacies of his single term.

I don’t believe it. No, no, I don’t believe it
Not only did Trump assault every mechanism protecting the environment, he repeatedly undermined sustained efforts by climate change researchers on the subject, denying that climate change actually exists. “I don’t believe it. No, no, I don’t believe it,” has been his slogan from the beginning. According to the New York Times, the Trump administration has rolled back nearly 80 environmental rules and regulations, with more than 20 additional rollbacks still in progress. Further, most of the rollbacks have been implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), weakening the Obama-era limits on planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, cars and trucks, removed protections from wetlands, and withdrawn the legal justification for restricting mercury emissions from power plants.

It all started in 2017 
In 2017, Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement arguing that it was “job-killing” and said it would “punish the American people while enriching foreign polluters.” This set the tone for the Trump administration's approach to the environment as well as signalled less US leadership in international climate change agreements. In November 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo filed paperwork to withdraw from the agreement, making the United States no longer a part of the group of nations pledging to address climate change.

Another initial move by Trump was his order on scientists and other employees of the EPA which prevented them from indulging in any public communications, because of which many scientists have complained of being side-lined and even demoted for speaking up. Subsequently, the administration removed the words climate change from many government scientific and policy reports. Many important scientific panels and committees, including those on climate change, were made dysfunctional by the administration. Since then, he took all the steps to derail climate science and outreach, some of his rollbacks include:

Rolling back Clean-Power Plan
Trump’s EPA prepared an executive order to begin the rollback of several Obama-era policies focused on fighting climate change. The major one being the Clean Power Plan which was Obama's signature environmental policies required the energy sector to cut carbon emissions by 32 per cent by 2030. However, Trump’s order called for the scrapping of the social cost of carbon and rollback of Obama-era guidance on federal government’s carbon emissions and rescinds a 2016 Interior Department moratorium on coal leases on federal lands. A replacement for the Clean Power Plan called the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) gave states the provision to set their own carbon emissions standards for coal plants. Among the reasons cited for the rollback were unfair burdens on the power sector and a “war on coal.”

Rolling back Water, Wetland protections and Methane emission
In 2017, Trump issued an executive order ordering the EPA to formally review what waters fell under the jurisdiction of the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers according to the Clean Water Act, proposing to change the definition of what is considered a federally protected river or wetland. In 2020, Trump’s administration finalized plans to strip away environmental protections for millions of miles of waterways and wetlands across the US the move meant waterways and wetlands are more vulnerable to destruction by oil spills, fertilizer runoff and other pollutants.

In August 2020, the EPA announced its plan to roll back regulations on methane emissions for the oil and gas industry. The government’s plan would repeal many of the requirements on oil and gas sites to monitor for methane leaks and plug them, another rule for the Obama-era. By rolling back the rule, the Trump Administration not only caused damage to the climate but also the 9.3 million Americans who live within a half-mile of the older oil and gas wells would no longer be regulated.

Rolling back Land and Animal protections
In 2017, Trump announced plans to remove more than two million acres of protected lands at Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, allowing mining and oil and gas development in the areas. Then in 2019, he announced that it would change the way the Endangered Species Act is enforced, making it harder to protect wildlife from the multiple threats posed by climate change.

In 2017, the Trump administration dropped climate change from the list of national security threats. This decision implied that less Department of Defence research funding and a nationalistic outlook on the potential impacts of wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, and other natural disasters.

With Trump, there was no hope for climate change
Many experts and scientists critical of Trump’s actions have said, “The Trump administration spent four years assaulting every protection for our air, water, lands, wildlife and climate,” adding, “No administration has been worse for our environment or our nation’s public health than this one.” Further, scientist has said, “In general, the Republican Party has sided with the fossil fuel industry and ignored the broad support for climate action among the voters. Donald Trump took it to another level because of his own personal relations with the business in general.” While others have said, “Trump’s counterproductive actions have allowed the climate crisis to intensify and put the health of many Americans, especially in the most vulnerable communities, at risk by ignoring threats from pollution,” adding, “Trump’s legacy on environmental issues will be less about lasting policy changes and more about lost time and missed opportunities.”

Furthermore, Trump’s presidency came at a dangerous time for climate change with global emissions in 2020 being much higher than ever before, this means that a year wasted in the Trump administration has had much bigger consequences than a year wasted previously on not acting on climate change. Over the last three and a half years Trump has initiated an unprecedented number of regulatory rollbacks that ignore science and severely impact public health, the economy and the environment, making the US the worst performer in terms of the climate change mitigation indicators in the world, according to the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) 2020.

These actions are not what is expected of a global player like the US who is not only one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases but is also equally responsible to ensure global efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change. The Trump administration will be remembered for its disruptive path manifesting in climate denial as the clock ticks louder and faster on climate change.


About the author
Abigail Miriam Fernandez is a Project Assistant at the School of Conflict and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore. Her research interests include issues related to gender, minorities and ethnic movements in Pakistan and peace processes in South Asia. She is also a Teaching Assistant to the NIAS Certificate Course on Contemporary Pakistan. 
 

Print Bookmark

Other CWA Publications

The World This Week
February 2021 | CWA # 437

GP Team

India-Pakistan Ceasefire, US-Saudi Arabia reset, Afghan dialogue in Doha, and the Australian new media law on Facebook/Google

read more
Conflict Weekly 59
February 2021 | CWA # 436

IPRI Team

Continuing Protests in Myanmar, ‘Comfort Women’ issue in South Korea and Abductions in Nigeria

read more
Conflict Reader
February 2021 | CWA # 435

Apoorva Sudhakar

Ethiopia: Five fallouts of the military offensive in Tigray

read more
Conflict Reader
February 2021 | CWA # 434

Abigail Miriam Fernandez

Afghanistan: The recent surge in targeted killing vs the troops withdrawal

read more
Abortions, Legislations and Gender Protests
February 2021 | CWA # 433

Avishka Ashok

In Argentina, an extraordinarily progressive law on abortion brings the Conservatives to protest

read more
Abortions, Legislations and Gender Protests
February 2021 | CWA # 432

Harini Madhusudan

In Poland, the protests against the abortion law feed into anti-government sentiments

read more
Abortions, Legislations and Gender Protests
February 2021 | CWA # 431

Abigail Miriam Fernandez

In Honduras, a move towards a permanent ban on abortion laws

read more
Abortions, Legislations and Gender Protests
February 2021 | CWA # 430

Sukanya Bali

In Thailand, the new abortion law poses more questions

read more
Conflict Reader
February 2021 | CWA # 429

Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Civilian protests vs military: Three factors will decide the outcome in Myanmar

read more
Global Politics
February 2021 | CWA # 427

Apoorva Sudhakar

Trump’s Iran legacy: Maximum pressure, minimum results

read more
The World This Week
February 2021 | CWA # 426

GP Team

US-Iran restart, Munich Security Conference, Libya ten years after Gaddafi and the US Cold Storm

read more
Conflict Weekly 58
February 2021 | CWA # 425

IPRI Team

Anti-Separatism bill in France, Protests in Nepal against a gender-specific law, Surge in targetted killings in Afghanistan, and Instability continues in Ethiopia

read more
The World This Week
February 2021 | CWA # 424

GP Team

India-China border disengagement, Senate acquittal of Donald Trump, UAE’s Mars mission success, and the WHO’s findings on the COVID

read more
Conflict Weekly 57
February 2021 | CWA # 423

IPRI Team

Anti-Coup protests in Myanmar, a new US strategy on Yemen, and the US-Iran differences on nuclear roadmap

read more
India and Sri Lanka
February 2021 | CWA # 422

N Manoharan and Drorima Chatterjee

Five ways India can detangle the fishermen issue with Sri Lanka

read more
The World This Week
February 2021 | CWA # 421

GP Team

Biden's new US foreign policy priorities, Russia-EU tensions over Navalny, and China's redline on Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan

read more