Trump, climate change and why we should be worried

The election of a new US president has raised fresh concerns about the global fight against climate change, given Donald Trump’s somewhat sceptical views on environmental matters, says Matthew Farrow.

Only weeks after the Paris climate change agreement came into force, we now have a US president-elect who is, to put it mildly, a climate sceptic. 

There are suggestions online that he has appointed leading climate sceptic and director of the Centre for Energy and Environment at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute Myron Ebell to lead the environment and energy work for his transition team. 

That Ebell has been censured as a climate change denier by groups as diverse as Greenpeace, Rolling Stone magazine and the House of Commons gives you an idea of his views. 

Ebell is a well-known and polarising figure in the energy and environment field. His rumoured participation in Trump’s transition team signals that Trump is looking to drastically reshape the climate policies the US has pursued under the Obama administration. Ebell’s role is likely to infuriate environmentalists and Democrats but cheer critics of Obama’s climate rules.

Ebell is known for his prolific writings that question what he calls climate change “alarmism”. He appears frequently in the media and before Congress and is also chairman of the Cooler Heads Coalition, a group of non-profits that “question global warming alarmism and oppose energy-rationing policies.”

Further highlighting concerns, in the past Trump has also talked of pulling the US out of the Paris agreement and a number of his spokespeople have spoken openly about environmental regulations being a brake on business and free enterprise.

I suspect though that Trump may just largely abandon efforts to shift the US away from fossil fuels and ignore any failed low carbon targets. Enough countries have now ratified the Paris agreement for it to remain in force regardless of US participation, but there is no doubt that Trump’s election is a blow to international co-operation on climate change.  

Despite this, the view from the former boss of one of the oil super-majors that I heard at a conference recently was that the energy industry will still plan for a world that moves away from fossil fuels, though he also argued that this would mean low oil prices indefinitely as the Middle Eastern producers kept putting as much oil onto the market as possible to avoid being left with stranded assets in 30 years’ time.

It’s also worth remembering though that while the oil price and US climate policy will have an impact on the commercial prospects for low carbon energy generation, for the majority of Environmental Industries Commission members who are involved in environmental protection, the pressures around the world from rising middle classes fed up with local pollution of their air, water and soil means that the global environment market should remain as buoyant as ever. 

Matthew Farrow is the director of the Environmental Industries Commission, which represents businesses which provide the technology and services that deliver environmental performance across the economy.