Global carbon emissions can still go down even if the US plans to cancel its Paris Agreement goals and go the dirty energy route under the administration of President Donald Trump, said Washington’s top negotiator on Nov. 14 at climate talks in Marrakesh, Morocco.
“Of course they are going to move forward,” Jonathan Pershing, a veteran climate negotiator serving the administration of outgoing US President Barack Obama, said in a press conference at the 22nd Conference of Parties (COP22).
Pershing said he has heard assurances from both developed and developing countries – China included – to meet their respective emission reduction goals and honor the Paris Agreement even if the US decides to do otherwise.
“I don’t think the change here will affect the development pathway of others,” he said.
COP22, as the conference is known, will run through Nov. 18 as more than 170 nations seek to determine what action must be taken to combat climate change once the landmark Paris Agreement, put in place in 2015, comes fully into effect.
Although Trump has vowed to withdraw the US – the world’s second-largest source of greenhouse gases after China – from the Paris Agreement, other experts at the conference believe it will survive with or without the US. China has warned the US not to abrogate the agreement. In addition, if Trump follows through with his vow, it would take four years before the country actually leaves, according to Thomas Hale, an Oxford University professor of public policy, writing in Climate Home, an NGO dedicated to combating climate change.
The role of the rest of the world
The global carbon budget exceeds 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time this year, increasing the urgency to cut carbon emissions drastically and quickly, conference participants said. The US, however, may do just the exact opposite, as Trump has publicly said he plans to approve projects that will source energy from fossil fuels in the face of Chinese warnings on Nov. 7 that the US must not pull out of the climate agreement.
In his action plan for his first 100 days which was released during the presidential campaign, Trump said he will “lift the restrictions on the production of US$50 trillion worth of job-producing American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal” and “lift the Obama-Clinton roadblocks and allow vital energy infrastructure projects, like the Keystone Pipeline, to move forward.”
Glen Peters from the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research said that if the rest of the world can shrink their carbon footprint and transition to renewable energy soon, however, the carbon budget can still be lowered, as the US only emitted 15 percent of the carbon emissions in 2015.
"The US only contributed 15 percent - the rest of the world can do an awful lot," he said.
The numbers, in fact, are on the downtrend, except for India, whose carbon emissions in 2015 rose by 5.2 percent. India’s contribution to the 2015 global carbon budget is 6.3 percent.
“Global emissions have flattened out,” Peters said, with China’s carbon emissions decreasing by 0.7 percent last year. The carbon cut in the world’s top carbon emitter came from the country’s war on air pollution and dropping coal consumption.
The US’ emissions, on the other hand, dipped by 2.6 percent as coal use has fallen. As alternative energy production has decreased sharply over the past decade, coal is growing less viable as an energy source and Trump’s pledge – if indeed he follows up is regarded as little more than a ploy to garner votes from a decreasing but politically vital segment of the population – white males in poverty-stricken swing states.
Renewables now cheaper
Pledges to reduce emissions in the Paris Agreement are not sufficient, however, to keep the world from going beyond the dangerous temperature threshold of 2 degrees Celsius. “Most studies suggest the pledges give a likely temperature increase of about 3 degrees Celsius in 2100,” the report said.
That is what makes the sectors and countries most vulnerable to climate change jittery over the prospects of US withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. Nowhere is the need for controlling global warming more imperative than in four Southeast Asian countries – Myanmar, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand – as well as two South Asian ones, Bangladesh and Pakistan, which are among the 10 in the world most affected by climate change over the past 20 years.
Sonke Kreft, one of the authors of the Global Climate Risk Index, a study by German Watch presented at the Conference of Parties, said Southeast Asia particularly is impacted by different climactic impacts such as drought, flooding and tropical storms.
Peters said that though he will be a “little more optimistic” as production prices of renewable energy have decreased, “It will be hard for Trump to make coal more competitive.”
Pershing also said that in areas in the US where renewable energy sources have been installed, they have proven to be economically cost-effective, adding that trends show “the price will continue to come down.”
Purple Romero is a regular contributor to Asia Sentinel. She is attending climate talks in Marrakech, Morocco as a fellow of the Earth Journalism Network.