What will the Trump presidency mean for the UN climate deal?

Donald Trump, who said he will pull out of the Paris climate deal, has several viable paths to do so, although the biggest impact on the global movement might be symbolic.

Mosa'ab Elshamy/AP
A member of security forces stands guard outside the COP22 village, in Marrakech, Morocco, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. Climate negotiators have started work on implementing the Paris pact on global warming amid uncertainty over how the US election will impact the landmark deal as temperatures and greenhouse gases soar to new heights.

Environmentalists and global diplomats gathered in Morocco to ink out details for a global climate deal this week met with their worst-case scenario on Wednesday as Donald Trump was announced as the next president of the United States.

Mr. Trump has said that he will pull out of the historic 2015 Paris climate deal if he wins the presidency, indicating his disbelief in climate change and vowing to scrap President Obama’s overtures in cutting down carbon dioxide emissions.

If he carries through with his promises, the global agreement that saw unprecedented global collaboration in ratification with nearly 200 countries onboard may be threatened by the exit of the second largest polluter in the world. There are several doable paths Trump could take to either ignore the non-binding agreements or pull out of the pact altogether, but some say that the biggest impact may be symbolic in nature – especially after President Obama played a big role in rallying developing countries to join the deal.

"I see the real danger of Trump being elected as jeopardising the enormous change in the psychology on climate change," Louise van Schaik, an expert in multilateral negotiations at the Clingendael Institute in the Netherlands, told AFP earlier this month.

As Zack Coleman reported previously for The Christian Science Monitor, pulling out of the climate agreement would not require senate approval, although it may take up to four years for full removal. But since the deal is not legally binding, Trump could simply choose to ignore Obama’s pledge to curb national carbon emissions at least by 26 percent by 2025.

Trump has already promised to scuttle many of the mechanisms that would help the US meet the non-binding targets set by Obama in view of the Paris climate deal. Throughout the campaign, Trump called climate change a “hoax” multiple times, even insinuating that it was a scheme cooked up by China to hurt US manufacturing jobs, as reported by Politifact. He later denied those claims during the second debate with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. He has promised to scrap the Clean Power Plan targeting carbon dioxide emissions, repeal federal spending on renewable energy, and get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency, as noted by Brad Plumer from Vox.

This comes after President Obama met with the leaders of China and India, among two of the largest polluters, this year to push for collaboration in combating climate change, speeding up the ratification of the global deal. In a rare move, a top Chinese official even called out for Trump to uphold the carbon deal.

"I don’t think ordinary people would agree if you were to reject that trend," Xie Zhenhua, China’s representative for climate-change affairs, told The Wall Street Journal. "I’m convinced, if it’s a wise leader – especially a political leader – he ought to know that all his policies should conform to the trends of global development."

While some are concerned that a US exit will provide an excuse for other nations to also bail on the deal – especially developing nations that contribute to the most emissions – the reality of climate change and opportunities offered by investment in renewable energy may prove otherwise, as recently seen in developing nations push to ratify the Kigali deal that clamps down on another greenhouse gas. Historic droughts, flooding, coastal erosion, and air pollution may be factors driving the decision to participate.

Zheng Xinye, associate dean at the School of Economics at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, told Bloomberg that Trump’s victory "will be unfavorable for the global pollution fight, though the trend to combat climate change may not change worldwide," and he is confident that China will continue its efforts to curb greenhouse gases even without US coordination.

The global goal of holding temperature rise to less than 3.6 degrees F., however, might take a hit, and developing nations reliant on climate finance may have one less source to pull from.

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