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Five Reasons Trump's Executive Order On Climate Policy Will Fail

The very capable environmental community will challenge these proposals at every step.

07/04/2017 9:44 AM AEST | Updated 07/04/2017 9:44 AM AEST
Carlos Barria / Reuters
"This Order simply represents another giveaway to the dying carbon industry, and a willful and destructive attempt to undermine the Earth’s climate system."

US President Donald Trump has signed an Executive Order on US Climate Policy that is simply the most anti-environmental statement made by any president in the last century.

While the US, and the planet, need some bold and innovative action to limit and address inevitable climate change, the Order highlights the animosity and naivety of the Trump administration. It strikes a combination of revenge politics, economic sabotage, and willful ignorance of the challenges of adapting to climate change.

Here are five reasons it will inevitably fail:

1. This is yet another card in the game of revenge politics, as Trump and his Republican Party seek to erase the progress made by Barack Obama. Every single aspect of this order is about undoing what Obama has done. There is no originality or creative agenda here, no real plan for energy independence or economic development -- just erasure and destruction of existing policy and practice.

There are real conservative plans to address climate change, but this administration is still in opposition or toddler mode, just saying "No! No! No!" to every action taken by the previous administration.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
Trump is still in toddler mode.

2. Contrary to what the Trump has been spruiking, the Order won't revive the coal industry, won't provide jobs lost to miners, and won't contribute to a just transition for miners and their communities. It's simply a gift to the dying carbon extraction industry, part of a broader model of carbon kleptocracy we see across a number of administrative actions (including its praise for Russia).

The worst part is that this is a betrayal of American workers. Trump has told coal miners this order would bring coal jobs back, but even the most selfish coal bosses say that is not the case. There are already more jobs in the renewables industry than in coal. Worse still, given the huge potential of job creation in renewables, this proposal introduces uncertainty and actively sabotages that quickly growing industry -- and the jobs it can bring.

This is yet another card in the game of revenge politics, as Trump and his Republican Party seek to erase the progress made by Barack Obama.

3. A large part of the Executive Order on climate exposes the Trump Administration's intent to change some key rules implemented by Obama under the Clean Power Plan. But rule making in the US is a very complex and time-consuming process -- the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must propose a new draft rule, hear public feedback, respond to that feedback in substantive ways, and then implement a rule -- which will, inevitably, be challenged in court. And frankly, while the intent is obvious, nothing this administration has done has shown they have the knowledge or competence to actually write a rule that would stand up in court.

The very capable environmental community will challenge these proposals at every step (and may even have help from sympathetic and public-spirited bureaucrats in the EPA itself). The order suggests the EPA will try to dump the inclusion of 'the social cost of carbon', which includes things like broad health impacts of coal-fired power plants.

But they'll have to offer a solid reasoning for a return to more crude cost/benefit analysis that doesn't take these impacts as seriously. The rollback of the clean energy plan will take a lot of work and time, talent and patience. These are not qualities we have seen from Trump or anyone in his administration.

4. One of the more absurd aspects of the Executive Order is that it repeals a requirement for federal agencies to do adaptation and resilience planning. At the federal level, this Administration is simply writing off any preparation for inevitable coming climate change. Trump rescinded an Obama order for the armed services, in particular to address the national security implications of climate change. This goes directly against the advice of his own Secretary of Defense -- and it is difficult to imagine the Pentagon will just give up the study of one of the most serious threat multipliers it faces.

With this order, the Trump administration is insistent that the world turn a blind eye to climate change. Luckily, especially for people who will actually be impacted, there is broad adaptation planning happening in states and cities across the US; not only will this order embolden more to enhance their own planning, but it may also inspire more mitigation and divestment policies that often go hand in hand with community adaptation measures.

Trump's moves may line the pockets of the wealthy, and probably embolden like-minded supporters of the destructive, yet declining, coal industry in Australia. But the move away from fossil fuels, and the rapid development of a post-carbon energy system, will continue, grow, and spread.

5. Finally, at the international level, this is clearly an attempt to undermine the Paris Accords: the order essentially snubs global governance of carbon and attempts to deflate the global effort to keep climate change at under two degrees. However, the Administration's efforts will again inevitably fail.

Trump's moves may line the pockets of the wealthy, and probably embolden like-minded supporters of the destructive, yet declining, coal industry in Australia. But the move away from fossil fuels, and the rapid development of a post-carbon energy system, will continue, grow, and spread.

It will be led, on the one hand, by the governance and technological examples coming out of Europe and China, and on the other by the growing realisation of the business community that there is a cheaper, cleaner, safer, more-profitable future in the move toward new renewable energy systems.

This Order simply represents another giveaway to the dying carbon industry, and a willful and destructive attempt to undermine the Earth's climate system.

Fortunately, like many of Trump's claims, promises (and investments), it will fail on its own, or be stopped, through multiple avenues of resistance.

Unfortunately, that would leave the US close to the status quo, which is nothing to celebrate.

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