Trump may be obliged to alter stance on climate change

Dublin forum told of importance that EU, India and China hold line on climate action

U.S. President Donald Trump has visited the Vatican for talks with one of his most high-profile critics, Pope Francis. The two men exchanged sharp words during the presidential campaign last year. Video: Reuters

President Donald Trump may have to back down on his claim that climate change is "a con" in the face of pressure from some of the world's largest countries, according to a leading climate change advisor to the European Commission.

Mr Trump has indicated he will wait until after the G7 leaders' summit in Italy this weekend before deciding if the US will remain a party to the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change.

It was agreed by 200 world leaders, including his predecessor, Barack Obama in December 2015, but Mr Trump has pledged to cancel the deal, arguing that it is “job-destroying”.

Speaking in Dublin, the commission's expert Jacob Werksman said Mr Trump's declarations had had a "galvanising" effect on other countries' commitment to the Paris accord.


Nonetheless, the arrival of Mr Trump in the White House has produced “a nosedive” in the United States’s position on climate change, said Mr Werksman.

Before Mr Trump’s election, it was clear that no world leader could deny climate change was occurring. Neither could any leader renege on a responsibility to address it, but that is now at risk, he said.

The Paris Agreement meant that if a country accepted the need to reduce CO2 emissions – the single biggest contributor to global warming – it had to follow a path of decarbonisation in pursuit of a carbon-neutral economy by 2050, he said. It had also coincided with cost-effective technological improvements in the marketplace which had brought down the cost of renewable energy sources. In addition, there was a shift in public opinion, in that people now saw climate change as a challenge that had to be addressed.

Tipping point

While US withdrawal from the agreement could mean other leaders follow, the other tipping points reached in 2015 would be retained, predicted Mr Werksman, who spoke at an international conference at Dublin City University on deepening collaboration on climate change between the EU and India.

DCU lecturer in international relations Dr Diarmuid Torney said: "It is crucial that other big players, including the EU, India and China, maintain their commitment to climate action and deepen their co-operation with each other in the face of Trump's opposition."

Mr Trump’s appointments to key positions were an early indication of his intentions, while in March, he had signed an executive order seeking to dismantle much of Obama’s climate legacy.

“However, the US is no longer the world’s largest carbon emitter. In fact, the US share of global carbon emissions has declined from 22 per cent in 2001 to 14 per cent in 2015 – still significant, but not as central as it was when George W Bush withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001, added Dr Torney.

“Back then, the European response was swift and united. The EU pledged to forge ahead with Kyoto despite US withdrawal and, to the surprise of many observers, succeeded in bringing the protocol into force.”

The 2017 context was different with the emergence of “new springs of action” on climate change. “While in 2001 it fell to the EU to maintain global momentum, today the rest of the world is forging ahead with clean energy investment, driving down the cost of new technologies,” he said.

India was taking climate change and broader sustainability concerns more seriously, he said, and “has set incredibly ambitious targets for deployment of renewable energy”. It was facing huge challenges in poverty eradication and development, with 249 million Indian citizens still lacking access to electricity.

India's contribution to the global response was not in doubt, said Jayant Mauskar, former special secretary for environment with the Indian government. This was evident in the rapid growth of solar power, while more than 40 per cent of its total electricity capacity would come from non-fossil fuel sources by 2027.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times