The greatest danger posed by US president-elect Donald Trump may be his threat to "cancel" the Paris accord on climate change, which was concluded last December after decades of negotiations.
The Paris accord seeks to limit the rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees compared to pre-industrial revolution levels; 1.5 degrees if possible.
"Article 28 of the text I negotiated foresees that a state which has signed – and President Obama signed – may renounce the accord three years after it enters into force," Laurent Fabius, who presided over the 21st Conference of Parties, or COP, told France Inter Radio.
The accord took effect on November 4th, after the required two-thirds threshold of ratification by 55 countries, accounting for 55 per cent of global greenhouse emissions, was met.
Trump could renounce the agreement in 2019, Fabius said. A US withdrawal would take effect in 2020. The US is the world's second-largest producer of carbon emissions, after China.
Fabius recalled going through the agreement, line by line, with US and Chinese envoys. China linked its ratification to that of the Americans, and a US pullout could create a domino effect.
“It would have huge repercussions,” Fabius said. “Once you put greenhouse gases in the air, they stay there for up to 10,000 years. There’s a risk that other countries will say, ‘If the US is doing nothing, we won’t either.’ It would be extremely grave for the world; the future of the world is at stake.”
COP22 in Marrakech
News of Trump’s election cast a pall over COP22 in Marrakech, the first international climate summit since the Paris accord. The meeting had started with great optimism on November 7th, because the ratification procedure had been completed much more quickly than expected.
In other positive news for the fight against climate change, the first global climate deal for aviation was reached on October 6th, and an agreement to phase out planet-warming hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, used in air conditioners and refrigerators, was concluded in Kigali on October 15th.
This hard-won progress is threatened by Trump's climate negationism. "With Donald Trump's election, a period of great uncertainty regarding US climate policy has opened," Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists told Le Monde from Marrakesh.
“It will have an undeniable psychological effect, even if it doesn’t block the working session in Marrakesh.”
On Tuesday, US election day, the World Meteorological Organisation presented its analysis of the global climate from 2011 through 2015 at COP22. The five-year period was the hottest on record. The organisation reported "the increasingly visible human footprint on extreme weather and climate events with dangerous and costly impacts".
The same day, the Germanwatch group reported that more than 528,000 people have died in the past decade due to some 11,000 extreme weather events.
Trump has often ridiculed one of the most powerful scientific consensuses of our time. “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive,” he tweeted in November 2012.
In a campaign speech last May, Trump promised to “cancel” the Paris accord on the grounds it gave “foreign bureaucrats” control over US energy consumption and would “kill jobs and trade”.
In other tweets, Trump has cited freak cold weather events as proof that global warming is a hoax, claimed that wind turbines are “bad for people’s health” and that low-energy light bulbs cause cancer.
Trump does not even need to renounce the Paris accord to sabotage it. At the insistence of the US and other parties, the accord is non-binding, and there are no sanctions against countries who do not fulfil their pledges to cut carbon emissions.
Trump has vowed to dismantle the US Environmental Protection Agency, which has an $8 billion budget, and whose work he termed "shameful". He also said he would cut US funding for UN projects that fight climate change.
The Obama administration pledged $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund to help developing countries make the transition to renewable energy.
President Barack Obama’s “Clean Power Plan”, designed to reduce emissions from power plants, has been suspended since February, following a lawsuit by 27 mostly Republican states.
The president-elect wants to develop fossil fuels and increase reliance on coal mining and coal-fired power plants, which are responsible for 40 per cent of US carbon dioxide emissions. And he may resurrect plans for the Keystone XL pipeline between Alberta, Canada, and refineries in Illinois and Texas.