Donald Trump has been the President of the United States for a little over three weeks. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly bashed the issue of climate change, at times even calling it a hoax. His ascent to the presidency means that we must now contemplate how his campaign rhetoric will translate into policy.
The US is Canada’s closest ally, and much of our policy regarding climate change has been similar. Both nations have ratified the Paris Agreement, part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Under former US President Barack Obama, Canada and the US looked to be developing a solid relationship regarding climate change policy. Unfortunately, it looks like that may change.
When the US signed onto the Paris Agreement on September 3, 2016, the country committed itself to being a leader in the vastly important effort to reduce emissions and create clean and renewable energy sources. China, the world’s second largest economy and a burgeoning world superpower, signed the agreement on the same day.
Anyone leading the charge to combat climate change will tell you that it is imperative for emerging global superpowers like India — which signed onto the agreement on October 2, 2016 — and China to dramatically alter their energy production. These are the countries that will truly determine which paths we as a species take to change the effect that we are having on the Earth’s climate.
It is within this context that the future of US environmental policy seems all the more consequential. According to multiple reports, Trump plans to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement. One can only imagine that many other countries — who might have only ratified with the understanding that the US would as well — may follow suit.
This should surprise no one. Trump has made his opinion on climate change known. His is an opinion that has no basis in fact: the science on climate change is clear. Nevertheless, in an Instagram video released in December of 2015, Trump said of Obama, “While the world is in turmoil and falling apart in so many different ways, especially with ISIS, our President is worried about global warming. What a ridiculous situation!”
On February 1, 2017, Rex Tillerson was sworn in as the US Secretary of State. Previously the CEO of Exxon Mobil, a multi-billion dollar oil and gas corporation, Tillerson will now be a major voice in the US foreign policy. Having spent 40 years of his life working for Exxon, earning millions, and increasing the company’s value and influence, I highly doubt we can expect US foreign policy that actively aims to combat climate change.
Trump also made waves when he announced his nomination for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He tapped former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, whom The New York Times reported to be a “close ally of the fossil fuel industry” and who has notably been “a key architect of the legal battle against Mr. Obama’s climate change policies” — including having filed multiple lawsuits against the EPA itself.
Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made an effort to rehabilitate Canada’s climate change policy in his first 14 months in office. Canada signed its intent to ratify the Paris Agreement in October of 2016, committing to the reduction of emissions and the development of clean energy.
During the same month, Trudeau informed Canadians that the provinces had until 2018 to implement a tax on carbon, otherwise his federal government would impose one on them. A “floor price” of $10 per tonne would be set in 2018 and rise to $50 per tonne by 2022 — requiring provinces to meet carbon caps or exceed expectations through either a direct price on carbon or a cap-and-trade system.
Yet, Trudeau’s government can hardly be characterized as a bastion of improvement for Canada’s environmental policy. Almost immediately after being inaugurated, Trump breathed new life into the Keystone XL pipeline — and Trudeau’s cabinet consequently called this “a great decision for Canada and Alberta.” Trudeau and Trump are on the same page when it comes to pipelines. If it helps the economy and creates jobs, then consequences be damned. Pipelines are not only harmful to the environment, they displace Indigenous peoples and interfere with land rights and sovereignty.
One might wonder if Trudeau will stand his ground as Trump inevitably disregards the dire issue of climate change, or if he will cater to the desires of the POTUS.
Trudeau has said, “All Canadians know that Canadian climate policy will be set by Canadians, not by whomever happens to be president of the United States.” Only time will tell how Trudeau will respond to Trump in the medium term.
In the meantime, environmental groups, including ones led by students, should continue to place pressure on the Canadian government to not fall victim to political persuasion and act in the interest of our planet’s wellbeing.
Kieran McMurchy is a second-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Political Science, Philosophy, and History.