US PRESIDENT Donald Trump wasn’t exaggerating when he said during his election campaign that the US could “cancel” the Paris Accord on climate change.
Pull the US out of the deal involving almost 200 nations could have a domino effect on the participation of other countries in limiting fossil-fuel pollution, making it almost impossible and extremely expensive to stop catastrophic climate change.
That’s the conclusion of researchers and scientists evaluating the impact of Trump on the health of the climate.
While forecasting the state of the environment more than 80 years into the future is a notoriously inexact exercise, academics gathered by the the UN at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are concerned the world is headed for “extensive” species extinctions, serious crop damage and irreversible increases in sea levels even before Trump started to unpick the fight against global warming.
“Four years of the Trump administration may have only modest consequences, but eight years of bad policy would probably wreck the world’s chances of keeping warming below the international target of 2ºC,” Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University, said.
“The odds of our avoiding the climate-danger zone would fade to zero.”
While a 2ºC shift wouldn’t be noticeable during the course of a day, it would represent a historic change for the Earth as a whole that’s faster than any change in the climate since the last ice age ended some 10000 years ago.
The scenarios that scientists are looking at depend on measurements of air and water temperatures taken at hundreds of sites around the world, as well as complex models about how trends will evolve in the coming decades.
Trump’s move would clearly make the outlook worse, according to Climate Interactive, a team of modellers backed by institutions such as MIT Sloan School of Management and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
They estimate that the world would warm by 3.6ºC by 2100 when compared with pre-industrial levels, more than the 3.3ºC baseline scenario.
As the world’s second-biggest polluter after China, a move by the US to scrap the accord involving almost 200 nations, would pour hundreds of billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and speed up the warming trend already taking place.
It also would threaten a $100billion (R1.3 trillion) a year stream of funds that industrial nations have pledged to persuade developing nations to cut back their own emissions, endangering the political foundations of the global fight against climate change.
“The loss of US finance would be the biggest headache, and of course the symbolism is not good,” said Michael Grubb, a professor at University College London who has advised the EU on climate policy.
The Paris Agreement sealed in 2015 brought together the US and EU with big developing nations from China to India to Brazil in pledging limits on fossil-fuel pollution and funds to help poorer countries adapt to climate change.
Longer term, the impact of US withdrawal depends on how other countries and investors respond.
Trump, who for months has delayed a decision on the climate agreement, told his almost 31million Twitter followers to expect his final verdict this week, and the signs are pointing toward a withdrawal.
In an unprecedented step, the US broke from the other six nations on Saturday in a joint statement issued at the Group of 7 summit, saying the US was reviewing its policy.
The website Axios reported that he had told confidants he planned to pull the US out of the deal. So far, no other country, including China and India, has said they’d follow the US in pulling out of Paris.