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Is Trump Taking a Step Toward Climate Action?

The President-elect seems to be shifting away from some of his hardest hitting campaign promises, including his threat to cancel the U.S.’s participation in the Paris Agreement, much to the delight of climate advocates. While the verdict about Trump’s sustainability polities is still out, mounting pressure from citizens, businesses, Mayors, and global leaders may be forcing Trump’s hand when it comes to the environment.

The President-elect seems to be shifting away from some of his hardest hitting campaign promises, including his threat to cancel the U.S.’s participation in the Paris Agreement, much to the delight of climate advocates.  While the verdict about Trump’s sustainability polities is still out, mounting pressure from citizens, businesses, Mayors, and global leaders may be forcing Trump’s hand when it comes to the environment.

As it turns out, President-elect Trump might not be as hard-lined about the climate—or other tough issues—as he represented during his campaign.

When asked in an interview yesterday with the New York Times about the Paris Agreement, Trump said, “I’m looking at it very closely.  I have an open mind to it”, and he suggested that clean air and water were essential.

Ready for Anything 2017

I suspect that, in the face of mounting pressure from voters, businesses, elected officials, and international leaders alike, Trump is realizing that walking away from the Paris Agreement—and hopefully other sustainability initiatives like the Clean Power Plan—may have a net negative outcome for his presidency.

His about face really shouldn’t be that surprising.  Trump is a showman, and if nothing else, he knows how to please a crowd. While he pandered to his conservative constituency during the campaign, history shows that he has actually upheld a liberal stance on the climate, exemplified by his signature on a letter in 2009 asking President Obama and Congress to enact aggressive climate change legislation, stating that climate action was a problem worthy of “urgent attention and action.”

The verdict is still out when it comes to Trumps true stance on climate change.  True, he has appointed Myron Ebell, a noted climate change denier, to lead the EPA’s transition team, but it will be difficult for Trump to completely ignore the surging sustainability movement when it comes to decision making and policy development. 

Fortunately, there is little that a Trump administration can do to prevent communities, cities, states, businesses, and individuals from taking voluntary action.  

Over the past decade, the private sector has played an integral role in advancing this nation’s sustainability agenda.  Businesses of all kinds have found cost-savings in resource use reduction, determined creative ways to monetize sustainability, embraced renewable energy, and developed technologies that consistently disrupt the market. 

Now, companies are decoupling their carbon emissions from economic growth, realizing that, given our planet’s finite resources, if they don’t monitor their own environmental impact and implement innovative sustainable strategies, they may put themselves out of business. 

No doubt, the private sector’s sustainability progress hasn’t been completely altruistic—much of it has been driven by consumer demand, a powerful market force that no President can quell (according to Nielsen, approximately 66% of global consumers report that that are willing to pay more for sustainable goods—up from 50 percent in 2013.) 

As consumers have become more aware of sustainability, many climate advocates are hoping that they’ll become increasingly vocal, especially if Trump administration’s and the conservative Congress try to roll back existing environmental regulations.

There is certainly evidence of growing solidarity—consumers and activists alike are joining together to push Obama harder than ever in his last days of office to deny permits that would allow the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River and to eliminate all opportunities in his five-year plan to drill in the Atlantic Coast and Arctic Ocean (and the pressure has apparently worked—last Friday, Obama did block the sale of new oil drilling permits to drill in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off the Alaskan coast until 2022, a decision that could get reversed by Trump, who has pledged to expand Arctic drilling). 

Some activist groups are even threatening to unify voters to sue the Trump Administration if it goes too far in dismantling the EPA and existing environmental regulations, claiming that, by law, the government has a duty to address climate change, which directly and negatively affects U.S. citizens.

And cities are already flexing their muscles in response to the election, showing how far they’ll go to implement long-term sustainability plans.  As one recent and notable example, San Francisco approved legislation last week that prohibits the city “from entering into or extending leases for the extraction of fossil fuel from city-owned land” in an effort to combat climate change.  The city is planning to build solar arrays on properties that had previously been allocated for oil and gas drilling.  According to city officials, the arrays are projected to generate more revenue than the oil operations. 

Furthermore, Trump (and Congress) simply won’t be able to ignore mounting pressure from global leaders, who are charging ahead when it comes to climate action.  At the recent Marrakech climate talks—a follow up to last December’s meetings in Paris—nation after nation recommitted to their climate pledges, resulting in the Marrakech Action Proclamation, a document signed by 196 countries that calls for “the highest political commitment to combat climate change, as a matter of urgent priority” (that’s the good news—the bad news is that there still isn’t enough money to fund the activities needed to mitigate the major threats posed by climate change.) 

Countries across the globe have not only reconfirmed their commitments, but called on President-elect Trump to drop his campaign promise to cancel the Paris agreement, calling the Agreement “unstoppable.”

Clearly, the rest of the world isn’t waiting to see what the next U.S. President will do—nations across the globe are joining in solidarity to move forward with climate action, and the general consensus is that, if Trump decides to make the U.S. a “climate pariah”, there will be international consequences.  The Paris Agreement could feasibly be amended as early as November 2017 to implement trade measures against countries who are not part of the deal, which, in the case of a Trump defection, would be good for the European Union and China, and bad for the U.S.  Furthermore, the EU and China—either individually or in tandem—could be pushed by Trump’s environmental decisions and trade policies to impose a carbon tax on U.S. imports.

Undoubtedly, federal regulation and national policy is essential if we’re going to achieve our stated climate goals, so we can only hope that top-down pressure from global leaders and bottom-up pressure from citizens, Mayors, businesses, and other stake holders will affect and inform decisions made by both Trump and Congress.

It’s almost impossible to imagine that Trump will show any kind of leadership when it comes to climate action.  But, hopefully, he will at least pivot away from his hardline campaign rhetoric that climate change is a hoax and take a small step towards climate action, finding some reasonable middle ground that still enables the transition to a sustainable future.

Want to take an active part in the transition to a sustainable future?  Don’t miss the opportunity to join Green Builder Media and other sustainability advocates at the Sustainability Symposium 2017: Ready for Anything.   Space is limited, so click here to register today. 

How do you think Trump will respond to mounting environmental pressure?  Write to me at sara.gutterman@greenbuildermedia.com.

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