Trump’s climate move will put rich and poor countries at odds

29 March 2017
Comment
Wind turbines in India. Photo: Courtesy of Vestas

US President Trump’s Executive Order on Energy Independence and Economic Growth explicitly aims to undermine US domestic climate action and may be the first step in the US’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

This move is hardly surprising – Trump has referred to climate change in the past as a hoax – but is nonetheless devastating for what it means to global efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change and for poor countries already struggling to cope with extreme weather (the ongoing floods in Peru a case in point).

Domino effect on UN climate deal

The Executive Order comes at a bad time in the UN process. Poorer countries are a state of motion, as they hammer out climate policies to meet their international commitments. If the US can adopt a ‘jobs before climate change’ position, as characterised by CNN correspondent Dan Merica, then countries like Uganda could downplay their proposed green growth strategy to focus on straightforward (and much needed) economic development.

Other countries such as Ethiopia and Tanzania, lobbied by development partners to act on climate change, are now within their rights to reply: if the richest country in the world can’t afford climate action, we certainly can’t.

Global leadership and climate funds to take big hit

As yet, the Trump Administration’s official position on the Paris Agreement hasn’t been stated, but it’s not looking hopeful. If the US pulls back from the leadership position carefully built by President Obama, trust in this sensitive global agreement will be sorely tested. 

History may remember this as the moment a wedge was permanently driven between rich and poor countries on climate change.

The UN climate negotiations have been plagued by a lack of trust between rich and poor countries for a long time – manifested in the dispute over levels of financial support for vulnerable countries to manage climate change.  The Trump Administration has already made it clear that US contributions to funds like the Green Climate Fund will not continue, which could have severe implications not just for the level of resources in poor countries, but for the entire UN process.  Less developed countries have long made their position known that their support for the international process is conditional on resource availability and support from the international community.

If the Executive Order does indeed signal the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, history may remember this as the moment a wedge was permanently driven between rich and poor countries on climate change – with devastating results for all.