President Donald Trump hasn’t pulled the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, the climate-change accord among almost 200 countries that have committed to cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. But he’s taking steps that may make it virtually impossible for the U.S. to carry out its part of the deal. In rolling back the 2015 Clean Power Plan, Trump is targeting the key driver of what his predecessor, Barack Obama, hoped would be a revolutionary shift in electrical power generation, away from coal and toward wind, solar and natural gas.
1. What is Trump doing?
By executive order, Trump is starting to unravel a raft of rules and directives aimed at combating climate change. He says those regulations hurt the U.S. economy by killing jobs related to fossil fuels, especially coal mining. He’s repealing a 2016 policy that urged federal regulators to consider climate change in environmental reviews, rescinding directives compelling government agencies and the military to plan for rising temperatures, and ending an Obama-era policy of considering the “social cost of carbon” when weighing the impact of government policies. The Interior Department also will swiftly reverse a moratorium on the sale of new rights to extract coal on federal land.
2. Does this mean goodbye to clean energy?
Far from it. Trump’s actions may slow utilities’ shift away from coal but won’t reverse it. Even without Obama’s Clean Power Plan — which has been on hold anyway, pending a court challenge — the use of coal to generate electricity has been in decline, due to earlier pollution regulations and stiffer competition from cheaper natural gas and renewables. Wind and solar energy made up more than half of new power-plant capacity in the U.S. over the past decade, contributing to lower wholesale power costs, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Solar installations are forecast to more than double to 105 gigawatts in 2021, up from about 38 gigawatts today, the London-based researcher predicts. And many of the changes Trump is putting in motion will take years to take effect and are certain to face significant legal challenges.
3. Does Trump not see climate change as a problem?
It’s a long story. He mocked global-warming fears in a 2012 tweet that he later denied sending. As a candidate, he said he would “cancel” the Paris pact and “focus on real environmental challenges, not the phony ones we’ve been looking at.” He also called renewable energy — wind and solar and the like — “just an expensive way of making the tree-huggers feel good about themselves.” As president-elect, Trump told the New York Times that he would “keep an open mind” about the climate-change accord. Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said he does not believe carbon dioxide is the main cause of climate change.
4. Will he pull the U.S. out of the Paris deal?
By most accounts, it’s one of the toughest decisions the young Trump administration is facing, with senior adviser Stephen Bannon arguing for leaving the deal and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, among those pushing to remain. At his confirmation hearing in the Senate, Tillerson, the former chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp., said, “It’s important that the U.S. maintains its seat at the table about how to address the threat of climate change, which does require a global response.”
5. What does the agreement do?
Finalized in December 2015, and effective as of November 2016, the Paris Agreement aims to hold temperature rises below 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels to avoid the rising seas and superstorms that climate models predict. The pledges made to hit that target aren’t nearly enough and new UN estimates point to temperatures 3.4 degrees higher, levels that will render life impossible in some areas of Earth and result in massive habitat displacements. Countries have agreed to review their pledges every five years with a view to pledging deeper emissions cuts. At the latest round of talks, in November, parties to the accord strengthened their resolve to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.
6. Can global warming be slowed without U.S. involvement?
As the world’s second-biggest polluter, after China, the U.S. has a key role to play in any attempt to tackle rising temperatures. The U.S. also has agreed to contribute financially to help poorer nations invest in renewable energy.
The Reference Shelf
A QuickTake explainer on climate change, the Paris agreement and Trump.
Trump’s stance on the Paris deal may threaten U.S. relations with China.
China told Trump that climate change is no hoax.
The U.K. urged Trump to support the Paris agreement.
The EU, China and Saudi Arabia are taking the lead.