Trump’s flip-flop on climate change

President Trump and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. PHOTO: JIM WATSON/AFP

While he was still running to become President, Trump Tweeted that climate change was a Chinese hoax. Then after he was elected there was speculation that he might change his mind. This became especially acute when his daughter Ivanka held a high profile meeting with former Vice President Al Gore in which Trump also dropped in.

Then the Whitehouse held a series of meetings to decide whether or not to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and before each meeting announced that the decision would be made. However, after several such supposedly “decisive” meetings with no decisions, it was clear that there was a strong internal debate going on with Ivanka and the Secretary of State Rex Tillersen in favour of staying in the Paris Agreement and Steve Bannon and Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), wanting to leave it.

We all saw the final result when Trump made his speech in the Rose Garden of the White House where he finally announced the withdrawal of the United States of America from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Since then, he has tried to bring other countries to agree with the US and also either withdraw or ask for opening renegotiations of the Paris Agreement. However these efforts all ended in failure and even a strong ally like Saudi Arabia refused to support him at the G20 Summit meeting where all the other 19 leaders refused to accommodate the US, and the section on climate change of the final G20 official communiqué was adopted by 19 leaders which had a separate dissenting paragraph from the US.

Since Trump became President, the battle over climate change has not only focused on the Paris Agreement but also on the more substantial part of the science of climate change and domestic actions and discourse.

Here the climate change sceptics have reigned supreme; under the leadership of Scott Pruitt, the EPA scrubbed all mention of the words “climate change” from their websites and even went so far as to instruct all federal government officials and scientists to never mention the term!

Most recently, when the States of Texas and Florida were devastated by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in quick succession and even Republican mayors and governors were finally accepting that human-induced climate change was indeed real, Pruitt insisted that climate change was not manmade.

As countries are preparing to meet in a few weeks in November at the upcoming 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) being held in Bonn, Germany, the US has announced that even though they have already submitted the official letter of withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, their departure does not come into effect for at least three years.

Hence, the US will indeed participate in COP23 by sending a delegation, but it is still not clear what their role will be. In the last few days, they seemed to have indicated to some allies that they may be willing to stay in the Paris Agreement if they are allowed to renegotiate their obligations under it. In fact, Secretary of State Tillersen even said so in an interview.

However, no sooner had he done so that messages started coming out of the White House that there was no such desire to renegotiate the terms of the Paris Agreement.

This latest flip-flop may have been due to the very firm reaction from all the other countries that let the US know in no uncertain terms that the Paris Agreement was not up for renegotiation, nor was any country allowed to reduce its commitments under the agreement.

Hence, it looks as if Trump, while continuing to send mixed messages about his intentions, will eventually choose to renege on the commitments made by President Obama’s administration. If there is any one single ideology that Trump has, it seems to be to reverse every Obama initiative.

The rest of the world remains intrigued to see what the rhetoric of the US delegation will be in Bonn at COP23, but as far as tackling the actual problem of human-induced climate change goes, not only has the rest of the world, without exception, decided to fulfil their commitment, but even the different Stats, cities and companies in the US have decided to actually fulfil the obligations made by Obama, despite the White House and the federal government trying to reverse it.

This makes it seem that when it comes to tackling human-induced climate change, all Trump has achieved is to make the US the world’s sole rogue state.

Originally this article was published on  September 13, 2017 at Daily Star. The author Dr. Saleemul Huq is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).