Tag Archives: Climate Change

New Trump Executive Order Reverses Obama-Era Climate Change Policies

Alicia Nicholls

Less than one hundred days into his presidency, President Donald Trump has started a major rollback of Obama-era climate policies. Surrounded by an ensemble of coal miners, the US President today signed his Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.  Touted as necessary to liberalise energy production, promote economic growth and job creation, the Trump Executive Order takes aim at several executive actions implemented by his predecessor, President Barack Obama, as part of the US’ then response to the global climate change challenge.

For fellow pro-environmentalists today’s executive order is a blow to the global climate change fight and a sad confirmation of the policy change which Trump had promised. Why? Firstly, the US is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases (16% according to 2015 figures), which means US action or inaction on climate change has a non-negligible impact on global efforts to reverse course before it is too late. Secondly, environmental regulatory rollback by the US could provoke a domino effect on other large emitters who may decide to rollback their own so-called ‘job killing’ environmental regulations in order to be competitive. Thirdly, US climate change inaction is not just a blow for small island developing States which are the most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, but it further endangers those parts of the US which are feeling the ravages of climate change, such as sea level rise and more powerful storms.

The name  of the executive order is a misnomer as it does nothing to promote energy independence. Instead, it mandates, inter alia, departments and agencies to immediately review, suspend, revise or rescind existing regulations that “potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources”. It rescinds Certain Energy and Climate-Related Presidential and Regulatory Actions, including a 2013 executive order urging the federal government to prepare for the impact of climate change and a 2013 presidential memorandum on Carbon Sector Carbon Pollution Standards. It also lifts moratoria on Federal land coal leasing activities. His Head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, a known climate sceptic, reportedly hailed the regulatory rollback as “pro-jobs and pro-environment”.

This 360 degree reversal of US Climate Change policy comes days after President Trump’s proposed Budget which slashed budgetary funding for the EPA by 31%, but saw an increase in military spending.

Though denounced by environmentalists, the executive order has been praised by the US Coal Industry. Mr. Trump constantly blamed President Obama’s Clean Power Plan for the loss of coal mining jobs. However, though it is true that coal mining jobs have been on the decline in the US, most have been lost to automation as well as the shift to cleaner energy sources as opposed to clean energy regulations. Therefore, even some coal industry leaders, who have denounced climate action, have noted that coal jobs may not be coming back, regulatory rollback or not.

Moreover, the equation of climate change regulation with job losses is a false comparison as it ignores the growth not just in renewable energy industries and the green economy, but also specifically of green jobs and green goods and services.

President Trump is currently the only major world leader to deny the anthropogenic origin of climate change, and while he has often vacillated in his views on other subjects, on climate change he has been a consistent denier. Almost as a warning salvo that it would not be business as usual,  the Whitehouse.gov site had been scrubbed of any information relating to climate change immediately after President Trump’s inauguration.

Mr. Trump was also a fierce critic of the Paris Climate Agreement which had been concluded and signed by over 190 countries at the UNFCCC’s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21). Parties to the Agreement, which the US had ratified under President Obama via executive action, pledged, inter alia, to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.”

In the absence of being able to withdraw from the Paris Agreement (which the US cannot do until 4 years after ratifying), President Trump has, as expected, chosen to ignore and reverse emission reduction commitments made by his predecessor. It is also expected that under President Trump the US will renege on the pledge made by developed countries to mobilise $100 billion in climate finance per year by 2020 to assist developing countries with their climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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A Week of Trumpism in ‘Action’

Alicia Nicholls

If President Trump’s cabinet picks were not enough to demonstrate that his campaign promises to shake up the status quo were not mere puffery, his first full week in the Oval Office provides glaring glimpses into Trumpism in ‘action’. During the past week, Mr. Trump has signed several executive actions aimed at effecting some of his most controversial campaign promises, including on trade, climate change and immigration. Many of these executive actions have implications not just for US domestic policy but the world.

Trumpism

The corpus of beliefs, of which Trumpism is comprised, remains embryonic and imprecise but at its core, Trumpism is undergirded by the nativist credos of “Make America Great Again” and “America First”. Trumpism is informed by President Trump’s core belief that America is losing its global economic and military hegemony, while at home the average American worker is being disadvantaged by the offshoring of manufacturing jobs due to “horrible trade deals”, “corruption in Washington” and the “uncontrolled” influx of migrants, particularly from Mexico. It also believes that immigration is a threat to US national security and public safety.

Trumpism, therefore, sees four main constraints on America’s greatness: badly negotiated trade deals, over-regulation, a high tax burden and porous borders. In light of this, Mr. Trump’s anti-establishment campaign platform was particularly anti-trade and anti-immigration. The President’s campaign promises reflected policy proposals which were targeted not just at the not insignificant segment of the US population which shared his beliefs, but were aimed at making America “win” again.

Withdrawal from TPP

Although President Trump’s Trade Team nominees foreshadowed the seriousness of his mercantilist predilections, in week 1, we further saw the trade component of Trumpism at work, namely a disavowal of large trade deals in favour of bilateral deals.

Mr. Trump signed a presidential memorandum instructing the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to “withdraw the United States as a signatory to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), to permanently withdraw the United States from TPP negotiations, and to begin pursuing, wherever possible, bilateral trade negotiations to promote American industry, protect American workers, and raise American wages.” It should be noted that the TPP had been signed but not been ratified by the US. Although TPP had been championed by former President Obama, US withdrawal from the TPP was also an issue on which there was rare bipartisan consensus.

In the memorandum the President confirmed that “it is the intention of my Administration to deal directly with individual countries on a one-on-one (or bilateral) basis in negotiating future trade deals”. On the basis of this, it is likely that the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which was under negotiation with the European Union (EU), may suffer a similar fate.

Executive Action on Immigration

Nativism is a central pillar of Trumpism and it is no surprise that immigration was one of the main issues he sought to cover with his executive actions this week. President Trump signed an executive order entitled “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” to protect American national security and public safety.

Among other things, the Order provides for the construction of a border wall along the 1954 mile border between Mexico and the US, it ends the catch and release policy, provides for increased deportation of criminal immigrants, seeks to add an additional 5,000 border patrol agents and pulls funding from Sanctuary Cities. In regards to the latter, the mayors of several Sanctuary Cities have vowed to defy Trump’s immigration order.

In an ABC interview, the President reiterated that Mexico would be reimbursing the US for the proposed wall and that negotiations will be starting soon. Current Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and former Mexican president, Vicente Fox, have both forcefully denied that Mexico would be footing the bill for any such wall.

Mr. Pena Nieto cancelled a meeting with Mr. Trump which had been scheduled for this week to discuss, inter alia, the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). When challenged in the same interview on Mexico’s refusal to pay, Mr. Trump noted the US will be reimbursed even if in a “complicated” form. He has since proposed that it will be funded by a tax on Mexican imports, which any student of economics knows would not be a tax on Mexico but on American consumers!

Visa and Refugee Restrictions

Perhaps his most controversial executive action is the Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States Order which puts a temporary entry ban on all refugees, as well as on nationals, immigrants and refugees from the following countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. US Green card holders from these countries have also been affected. It also suspends the issuance of Visas and Other Immigration Benefits to nationals of those countries and also cancels the visa interview waiver.

While the President has subsequently claimed it is not a “Muslim” ban, it is quite interesting that all of the countries on the list have majority Muslim populations. It also echoes the statement on preventing Muslim immigration which he had made during the campaign where he had called “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”.

On Saturday, the detention of 12 refugees at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, some of whom had provided assistance to the US government, sparked protests at major airports across the US and outrage around the world. Hameed Darwesh and Haider Al shalwi filed an Emergency Motion for Stay of Removal on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated.

In the ruling on Darweesh v Trump, United States District Judge Ann Donnelly blocked (a) the removal of individuals with refugee applications approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as part of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, (b) holders of valid immigrant and non-immigrant visas, and (c) other individuals from the countries mentioned in the Ban which are legally authorized to enter the United States. However, it should be noted that it was not a ruling on the constitutionality of the Ban.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the 90-day visa moratorium also applies to people who originally come the countries identified but are traveling on a passport issued by any other country.

Iran has subsequently stated it will be taking ‘reciprocal’ action.

A new US UN

In a speech which raised eyebrows around the world, the US’ new United Nations Ambassador, Nikki Haley,threatened America’s allies that if they are not with America, America will be “taking a names”. Ambassador Haley, who is the former Governor of South Carolina, said there will be change in the way the US does business with the UN. She noted that US will show its strength and voice. The video of Ambassador Haley’s speech may be viewed on the New York Times’ online article.

The Ambassador noted that “our goal with the administration is to show value at the U.N., and the way we’ll show value is to show our strength, show our voice, have the backs of our allies and make sure our allies have our back as well.” Without doubt, there are ways in which the UN’s operations can be improved. However, what this seems to be is a return to US unilateralism as opposed to multilateralism.

Actions against the Environment

In keeping with his promise to cut regulations and increase drilling for fossil fuels, Mr. Trump has signed presidential memoranda streamlining, permitting and reducing regulatory burdens for domestic manufacturing and facilitating the construction of the two controversial pipelines (Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline). He also signed an executive order expediting environmental reviews and approvals for high priority infrastructure projects.

All references to climate change were immediately scrubbed from the Whitehouse.gov website upon his taking office. Perhaps more worryingly are the gag orders on various government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which will now be headed by a climate change denier.  A report by the Guardian states that the Trump administration is now requiring studies or data from EPA scientists to undergo review by political appointees before they can be made public. US agencies are among some of the most important sources of climate-related data, which are critical in the fight against climate change.

President Trump’s denial of climate change science is not outside of the Republican party mainstream, but as a Sierra Club report stated before the election, he would be (and currently is), the only sitting world leader to deny that man-made climate change exists.

So what does this all mean?

It has only been a week and we are already seeing the chaotic effects of Trumpism in action. Naturally, many of these executive orders will need the cooperation of Congress and the relevant agencies in order to be implemented. For instance, Congress will need to approve funds for the construction of the US-Mexico border wall, which despite President Trump’s assertions, Mexico will never pay for. The Congress is Republican-controlled but many Republican congressmen/women are self-professed fiscal conservatives who may not be willing to make the US taxpayer, of which they are a part, to  foot the astronomical costs for such a wall.

Moreover, some of these actions may be challenged in court, as seen in the case of the Travel Ban. Of course, in light of the opposition to some of these moves it is possible that President Trump may moderate some of his stances. For the Caribbean, whose small island states have felt the ravages of climate change, the greatest worry will be his actions to reverse President Obama’s actions to curb the US’ emissions.

What is most concerning for the world is that Mr. Trump’s actions evince a return to an inward looking US, a country once regarded as the leader of the “free world”. It prioritises a foreign, immigration and trade policy which places unilateralism over multilateralism, protectionism over fair/free trade and xenophobia over diversity. I would submit that this unfortunate shift not only weakens America’s standing in the world, but promotes increased global uncertainty, instability and perhaps, greater conflict.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Trump Presidency: What priorities for US-Caribbean Economic Engagement?

Alicia Nicholls

The United States’ position as most Caribbean countries’ largest economic partner and an important foreign policy ally means that constructive engagement with the incoming Trump administration is not just a choice but an imperative. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and individual Caribbean governments have all expressed congratulatory messages, emphasizing their willingness to work with Mr. Trump and continuing the harmonious US-Caribbean relationship.

But in contrast to the idealism attending then Senator Barack Obama’s “Yes we can” message eight years ago, a spectre of profound uncertainty shrouds the President-elect not just because of his extreme rhetoric on trade and foreign policy, undergirded by his “Make America Great Again” and “America First” refrains, but also the lack of policy specificity.

In this article, I will outline what I believe are five key priorities which will likely frame US-Caribbean economic and foreign policy engagement for the foreseeable future:

  1. Correspondent Banking/De-Risking

A first order of business will be continuing the conversation that CARICOM governments and stakeholders have started with US officials and regulators on the de-risking activities of US-based international banks, including the withdrawal and restriction of correspondent banking relationships. These relationships are Caribbean’ lifeline to the global financial and trading system, critical for the trade, investment and remittance flows which buoy our small open economies and sustain households.

US foreign policy orientation towards the Caribbean has constantly recognized that an economically secure “third border” complements US’ strategic security interests. Any threat therefore to the region’s economic and financial inclusion is something which should be of mutual concern. Unfortunately, there appears to be limited progress on the correspondent banking issue.

While de-risking is a cost-benefit decision for banks, it is also partly fuelled no doubt by ambiguous regulations and the Caribbean’s undeserved reputation in some quarters as a high risk place for doing business. To their credit, the US Treasury and Federal Banking Agencies released a Joint Factsheet on Foreign Correspondent Banking. Additionally, the US Treasury has reiterated that the de-risking issue is a “key priority”.

However, actions by US authorities which unfairly label Caribbean countries as “tax havens” contribute to the perception that Caribbean jurisdictions and banks are higher risk. In 2015 the state legislature of Montana, and the District of Columbia, had included several Caribbean countries among their proposed lists of tax havens. This is despite Caribbean countries’ having taken steps to ensure their compliance with the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and our clean bill of health by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).Continued engagement with US states and federal authorities on this issue is a must.

  1. International Financial Services & FATCA

Although President-elect Trump has promised to lower the US federal corporation tax rate from 35% to 15% and  provide a deemed repatriation of corporate profits held offshore at a one-time tax rate of 10%, his orientation towards international financial centres (IFCs) in general is not well-known.

The Obama administration has not been friendly to Caribbean IFCs, and that is putting it mildly. On the other hand, Mr. Trump’s background as a businessman may make him more appreciative of the role IFCs play in making US businesses more efficient and profitable, which in turn facilitates their contribution to US economic and job growth. Moreover, conventional wisdom holds that Republican governments are usually friendlier to the Caribbean than are Democratic governments, and there is good anecdotal evidence to support this.

Additionally, continued engagement with US authorities will be necessary to iron out any implementation and reporting issues under FATCA.

  1. Caribbean Basin Initiative & Other Market Access Issues 

Manufacturers in most Caribbean countries enjoy non-reciprocal duty-free access to the US market for most goods under the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), an initiative of the Reagan administration in the 1980s which had both economic, ideological and geopolitical imperatives. The CBI is unilateral which means that the benefits can be unilaterally revoked and the criteria for eligibility changed at any time. However, CBI is generally believed to be beneficial to US manufacturing and jobs and Caribbean has a large trade deficit with the US, which should keep CBI off the President-elect’s immediate radar.

One sticking point in US-Caribbean trade relations is the cover over subsidies which the US Federal government pays to the US territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands out of excise taxes it collects from imported rums, which has made Caribbean rums less competitive in the US market. Turning to merchandise trade in general, non-tariff barriers such as sanitary and phyto-sanitary and labelling requirements have also been a constraint on market access.

Caribbean workers benefit from temporary employment under the US Farm Workers and Hospitality Workers programmes. However, outside of this, Caribbean service providers have no preferential access to the US market. The CBI does not cover services trade. Caribbean business persons seeking to supply a service in the US instead rely on non-immigrant visas. Mr. Trump has promised to tighten the US’ border and control policy. It is not certain whether this will be extended to non-immigrant visas as well.

  1. Immigration & Workers’ Programmes

Mr. Trump made tightening immigration one of the cornerstones of his campaign platform. While his ire was directed towards Mexican and Muslim immigrants, Caribbean immigrants will be collateral damage. For instance, undocumented immigrants who had come to the US as children and had identified themselves in good faith when applying for protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme might have unwittingly made themselves prime targets for deportation if Mr. Trump goes through with his plans.

Most Caribbean immigrants are law-abiding citizens who are making sterling contributions to the American society. However, another pertinent concern is Mr. Trump’s vow to accelerate the deportation of those immigrants convicted of crimes to their country of birth, which has been a sticking point in US-Caribbean relations for some time. Caribbean governments have criticised the deportation of persons who were born in the Caribbean but socialised in the US with only superficial Caribbean roots. They have also linked these deportations to increased violent crime in the Region.

Mr. Trump has also spoken earlier about reforming legal immigration. This will make it difficult for Caribbean persons to emigrate legally to the US. This also has implications for remittances, a lifeline for many poorer Caribbean households.

5. Mobilising Climate Finance

Climate finance is needed to assist countries, particularly poorer and most vulnerable countries, in their climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts. It is something which the Small Island Developing States in particular were adamant upon during the negotiations leading up to the eventual signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Developed countries committed themselves to mobilising 100 billion USD in climate finance from a variety of sources each year by 2020, a pledge which dates back to Copenhagen in 2009 and one which President Obama has supported. Caribbean countries have also received climate change aid under USAID programmes.

Mr. Trump, however,  is not a believer in anthropogenic (man-made) climate change, and has vowed to “cancel the Paris Agreement”, to ramp up fossil fuel production and to defund the clean energy initiatives. Further US contribution to the Green Climate Fund, which was established to assist developing countries like those in the Caribbean, is now in question.

Conclusion

Mr. Trump’s election has evoked an aura of uncertainty over what will be the future paradigm of US-Caribbean relations. Although the Caribbean had not featured in the policy discussions during the campaign, Mr. Trump’s populist rhetoric illustrated a marked departure from the tenets of current US economic and foreign policy. He has, however, been light on specifics. If implemented, his proposals will be a strong departure from current US policy, particularly in the area of climate change which I addressed in a previous post.

Nonetheless there are two sparks of hope. Firstly, President-elect Trump is a businessman at heart and should be more attuned to a ‘dollars and cents’ argument. Secondly, Mr. Trump’s malleability in regards to his positions evinces some pragmatism on his part. It is worth remembering that for much of his public life, Mr. Trump has espoused liberal views until becoming an independent and then a Republican in later years. He has also softened some of his most ardent positions during the campaign and since winning the election, and has also been rumored to be considering some of his former Republican opponents for Cabinet positions.

These two factors suggest that there may be more scope for discussion with a Trump administration than may initially be perceived. What will the emerging Trump Doctrine mean for the Caribbean? And whether we will see a “hard” or “soft” Trump, to borrow the clever nomenclature employed by former WTO Director General, Pascal Lamy, no one knows. A clearer sense of Mr. Trump’s true policy orientation will be more discernible when more of his Cabinet picks are revealed and his proposals are elaborated upon.

While these issues I have highlighted will not be policy priorities for the Trump Administration, they are issues of importance to Caribbean countries. As such, Caribbean governments and other stakeholders must be pro-active in their engagement with the Trump administration from day-one when he assumes office in January 2017.

Alicia Nicholls is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Paris Climate Change Agreement Enters into Force: What next?

Alicia Nicholls

“Humanity will look back on November 4, 2016, as the day that countries of the world shut the door on inevitable climate disaster and set off with determination towards a sustainable future.” Joint Statement by Patricia Espinosa, UNFCCC Executive Secretary and Salaheddine Mezouar, President of COP22 and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of the Kingdom of Morocco

It is with these poignant words that United Nations (UN) Climate Chief, Patricia Espinosa, and President of COP22 and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of the Kingdom of Morroco,  Salaheddine Mezouar, heralded the entry into force of the Paris Agreement just shy of twelve months after it was agreed to by nearly 200 parties at the UNFCCC’s Twenty-first Conference of the Parties (COP-21) in Paris, December 2015. November 4 was indeed a momentous day for the global community and planet Earth and the Agreement’s early entry into force signals countries’ strong stated commitment to global climate action. However, the hard work now begins.

Background

The historic Paris Agreement sets the overarching framework for global climate action. It is the culmination of years of hard-fought negotiations and compromise. Inter alia, countries around the world have committed themselves to “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5  degrees Celsius.”

This more ambitious latter threshold of “1.5 degrees Celsius” was strongly advocated for by Small Island Developing States (SIDS) which, despite their negligible contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, are the most vulnerable to the adverse and deadly effects of climate change. This harsh reality was reiterated in October 2016 when Haiti was struck by Hurricane Matthew, which took 1,000 innocent lives and has left 800,000 persons without food. The Bahamas, parts of Cuba and also of the southeastern United States also felt some of Matthew’s fury. Outside of more devastating weather events and changing weather patterns, some of the other effects of climate change include coral bleaching, sea level rise and beach erosion, which have implications for fisheries, tourism and agriculture, industries upon which many small states’ economies and livelihoods depend.

This universally accepted climate change accord was signed by over 190 parties on Earth Day (April 1, 2016). However, the Agreement could have only entered into force once at least 55 countries accounting for at least an estimated 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions had ratified the Agreement. This threshold was reached on October 5, 2016 and the Agreement entered into force 30 days later on November 4, 2016. According to UNFCCC, ninety-seven (97) countries accounting for an estimated two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions have ratified. Most major  greenhouse gas emitting parties, including the US, China, the European Union and India, have ratified the Agreement.

It’s Show time!

It is one thing to sign off on the dotted line. It is another thing to actually implement the Agreement. In regards to the fight against climate change, we are quickly reaching the point of no return. Here are some not so fun stats:

  • Global greenhouse gas emissions, including CO2 emission levels, have continued to rise. The World Meterological Organisation (WMO) reported that globally average CO2 levels reached 400 parts per million for the first time in 2015 and in 2016 again due to El Nino.
  • 2015 was the hottest year on record, surpassed only by the first six-months of 2016.
  • According to NASA, global  surface temperatures continue to rise, while “[f]ive of the first six months of 2016 also set records for the smallest respective monthly Arctic sea ice extent since consistent satellite records began in 1979”.

As United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon is reported to have said, “[w]e remain in a race against time”.

Even more concerning is that current emissions reduction targets pledged  by counties in their Nationally Determined Contributions are not enough to maintain the temperature increase to the ambitious levels set by the Paris Agreement. This was reconfirmed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in its most recent Emissions Gap Report released the day before the Paris Agreement entered into force, which stated as follows:

Even if fully implemented, the unconditional Intended Nationally Determined Contributions are only consistent with staying below an increase in temperature of 3.2°C by 2100 and 3.0°C, if conditional Intended Nationally Determined Contributions are included (page xvii).

Another issue which is critical for developing countries’ efforts towards transitioning to low carbon and climate-resilient development is that of climate change financing. This is particularly important for SIDS, some of which are highly-indebted and with limited capacity to mobilise adequate domestic financing to fund their climate change adaptation and mitigation needs. Reiterating a promise made at Copenhagen and Cancun, developed countries have pledged in the Paris Agreement to jointly mobilise US$100 billion a year in climate change finance by 2020 from a variety of sources.

However, some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have argued that the US$100 billion annual goal is not nearly enough. There may be some merit to this argument. For example, a 2013 report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) estimated that “[i]nfrastructure investment required for sectors such as agriculture, transport, power and water under current growth projections stands at about US$ 5 trillion per year to 2020.”

There is, however, some encouraging news. The Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment Report 2016 reported that in 2015, investments in renewable energy reached nearly $286 billion, more than six times more than in 2004. Moreover, for the first time, more than half of all added power generation capacity came from renewables.

So what is next?

The modalities for the Agreement’s implementation will be top of mind when the latest round of UN Climate talks commence this week in Marrakech, Morocco. Three critical sets of UN climate meetings will be occurring:

  • The twenty-second session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22)
  • The twelfth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 12)
  • The first session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA 1).

The provisional agendas for each set of meetings are available on UNFCCC’s website. In regards to CMA1’s agenda, they are expected to “consider and adopt decisions on the modalities, procedures and guidelines on the implementation of the Paris Agreement” in addition to organisational and other matters.

The elephant in the room is the upcoming US presidential election. The US is the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, accounting for an estimated 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Its future climate action will be determined by the results of Tuesday’s poll. President Obama has pledged to cut U.S. Climate Pollution by 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

In complete contrast from current US climate policy, the Republican presidential nominee, Mr. Donald Trump, has famously called climate change a “Chinese hoax” and has gone as far as threatened to pull the US out of the Agreement. Although it would take about four years before the US can formally withdraw from the Paris Agreement, in the intervening time, Mr. Trump could still undo the US’ progress on climate change action by overturning the executive actions President Obama has implemented to fight climate change, cancelling funding for clean energy initiatives, and reducing and eliminating aid to developing countries for climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Therefore, as I argued in a previous post, the future of US and global climate action, will depend significantly on the outcome of Tuesday’s poll.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Climate Change, the US Elections and Small Island Developing States’ Survival

Alicia Nicholls

We are the first generation to be able to end poverty, and the last generation that can take steps to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Future generations will judge us harshly if we fail to uphold our moral and historical responsibilities.” – Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations.

In a step that was both historic and symbolic, the Presidents of the United States (US) and China last week ratified the Paris Agreement ahead of the on-going G20 summit in Hangzhou, China. This single showing of solidarity by the world’s two largest industrialised powers was welcomed news for the small island developing states (SIDS) such as those in the Caribbean, Pacific and the Africa, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Sea (AIMS) states. Through the 44-member Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), SIDS  pushed not only for the conclusion of the Paris Agreement but insisted on the inclusion of language in the Agreement in which parties endeavored to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels” (Article 2(a) of the Paris Agreement).

SIDS are the least culpable but most physically and economically vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. Rising sea levels have dislocated coastal communities and threaten the territorial integrity of the Pacific states of Kiribati and the Marshall Islands. Earlier this year, Cyclone Winston caused US1.4billion in damage, with the highest economic and human toll in Fiji, while Tropical Storm Erika in 2015 cost the Caribbean state of Dominica nearly half of its GDP. However, as the story of a remote Alaskan village which has voted to relocate from their ancestral home because of sea level rise shows, climate change is not a SIDS’ problem alone. It is a cross-cutting global issue which has implications not just for the global environment but for human health, security, sustainable development and economic growth.

So what does all of this have to do with the upcoming election for the 45th President of the US? Well, if one considers the wide disparity in climate change rhetoric and policy proposals between the two major candidates running for the Oval Office, it is pellucid that the election of either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump is the difference between strong US support for reducing GHG emissions and leading the global fight against climate change on the one hand, and on the other, a reversal of the gains that have been hard fought for. In other words, the future of SIDS’ survival could depend on the outcome of the US election.

Current US climate change policy

Current US policy supports global climate change efforts. US President Obama’s three-pronged Climate Action Plan commits to cutting carbon pollution in America, preparing the US for the impacts of climate change, and critically for the Paris Agreement, leading international efforts to address Global Climate Change. This is a policy position which Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, has pledged to honour should she be elected to office by the American people this November.

The Paris Agreement was concluded in December 2015 at the end of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21). Since the Agreement’s opening for signature in April 2016, over 180 states have signed. However, as of September 3, only 26 states so far (representing 39% of global emissions) have ratified it. The recent ratification by the US and China, which together account for about nearly 40% of GHG emissions, is a significant step towards the threshold needed for the Agreement to come into effect; ratification by at least 55 countries which contribute to 55% of global GHG emissions. According to a White House press release on the US-China Climate Change cooperation outcomes, the two countries “committed to working bilaterally and with other countries to advance the post-Paris negotiation process and to achieve successful outcomes this year in related multilateral fora”.

Climate Change Platforms of Candidates 

While a four-way race in theory, the candidates of the two major parties, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, still have a large lead ahead of the two other candidates (Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party). Perhaps never before has there been such wide disparity in the positions of two US presidential candidates on the issue of climate change. The democratic candidate, former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has vowed to “take on the threat of climate change and make America the world’s clean energy superpower”. Some of her major policy initiatives to this end are: launching a $60 billion Clean Energy Challenge, investing in clean energy production and infrastructure, cutting methane emissions across the economy and prioritising environmental and climate justice, inter alia.

This stands in stark contrast to the stated position of Republican candidate, billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump, who, inter alia, tweeted in November 2012 that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive”. He later said he was joking. Unfortunately, for the world, and especially for SIDS, climate change is no joking matter.

While Trump’s skepticism on the anthropogenic nature of climate change is not dissimilar to that of most Congressional Republicans, a Sierra Club report has rightly stated that “if elected, Trump would be the only world leader to deny the science of climate change.” He has also denounced the Paris Agreement as a bad deal for America, ascertaining it “gives foreign bureaucrats control over how much energy we use right here in America”, a claim soundly and poignantly rejected by the US special envoy for climate change (2009-2016) in a Washington Post op-ed. Mr. Trump first asserted he would renegotiate the Agreement and later stated that he would ‘cancel‘ the US’ participation in it. He has railed against environmental regulations. His proposals to reverse President Obama’s climate change initiatives, abolish the US Environmental Protection Agency, save the coal industry and continue subsidies to the oil and gas industry would jeopardise the US’s current emission reduction targets.

Implications for SIDS of US Climate Policy Change

Should a President Trump, if elected, implement his stated policies, not only will there be a 360 degree reversal of the US’ current commitment to meeting its emission-reduction targets, but an end to US cooperation or support for the global climate change agenda. If this happens, there will be little the world could do,besides raise universal condemnation. This is because one weakness of the Paris Agreement is that there is no binding enforcement mechanism in the agreement to force compliance of countries to the emissions limits they set for themselves. Already, there is skepticism that the current “nationally determined contributions” are not ambitious enough to conform with the Agreement’s goal of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels” (Article 2(a) of the Paris Agreement).

Secondly, should the US withdraw from the Agreement or renege on its commitments, some other high emitters may feel less of a moral imperative to follow through with their own commitments or may withdraw as well.

Thirdly, climate change finance is important for SIDS’ adaptation to, and mitigation of, the effects of climate change. Under Article 9 of the Paris Agreement developed country members are obligated to provide “financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention”.

Caribbean countries  and several other vulnerable states around the world have benefited significantly over the years from the US Department of International Aid (USAID)’s projects which aim to build countries’ resilience to climate change. Climate change was one of the Obama Administration’s priorities for DA funding with $310.3 million in funding requested for Global Climate Change in the FY2017 Budget Request. The future of USAID aid flows to developing countries for climate change adaptation is bleak if current US policy towards climate change action changes under a Trump administration.

What then for SIDS?

The aim of this article is NOT to be an endorsement of either of the two major candidates running for the upcoming US Presidential election, neither is it an attempt to influence the American people’s decision. The US election is a democratic choice for the American people and only they can decide which of the four candidates’ platform better serves their interests. What this article attempts to do is to discuss and show the wide policy differences which exist between the two candidates of the major parties on climate change, and argues that any negative change in current US climate change policy will have far-reaching implications for the global climate change fight.

There are a few nuggets of hope, however.  Because of Article 28 of the Paris Agreement, a President Trump would have to wait at least three years from the date the Agreement has entered into force in the US before he could notify his intention to withdraw the US from the Agreement and it would take another year for such withdrawal to come into effect.Any US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is unlikely to be a popular move among Americans. Recent US polling data show there is grassroots support for Climate Change. Action. This includes not just environmental lobbies but the ordinary man on the street. There would also be universal condemnation by other major countries.

SIDS may have a few allies in the fight within the US. Outside of federal action, some states, like Oregon, have quite robust climate change initiatives. Moreover, faced with pressure from more discerning and environmentally-aware consumers, more businesses and large corporations are forced to demonstrate their use of energy-friendly processes and products.

Despite this, however, besides lobbying and moral suasion by other countries, there is little SIDS  can realistically do to change US climate change policy should there be a reversal. The vote for US president is a decision only the US electorate can make. However, for SIDS it could be a matter of survival.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Over 170 Countries Sign the Paris Agreement: What next for SIDS?

Alicia Nicholls

Earth Day 2016 was extra symbolic this year. On this day (April 22nd), 174 countries plus the European Union signed the Paris Agreement at a High-Level Signature Ceremony at the United Nations’ Headquarters in New York. Among the signatories were small island developing states (SIDS) from the Caribbean, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, for whom climate change is a serious matter of survival.

The Paris Agreement, which will replace the Kyoto Protocol when it comes into force, is a landmark climate change agreement which aims to strengthen the global response to climate change. Many years in the making, the Paris Agreement was concluded and adopted at the end of intense negotiations during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 21st annual Conference of the Parties (COP21) held in Paris last December.

Climate change is a global problem with implications for us all. According to the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA, 2015 was the hottest year on record since the start of record keeping in 1880. If these first few months of 2016 are anything to go by, this year may shatter that record handily.

SIDS which are responsible for less than 1% of global GHG emissions, are the most vulnerable to its adverse effects. Besides sea level rise, extreme weather events have caused tremendous economic devastation and loss of human life. The Rapid Impact Assessment showed that Tropical Storm Erika cost Dominica 90% of its gross domestic product (GDP). Earlier this year, the Category 5 Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston ravaged the Pacific SIDS of Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga and Niue. In Fiji the storm left 44 dead, destroyed over 31,000 homes and caused 1 billion USD in damage.

For SIDS, climate change is an existential threat to our economies, societies and survival, which led our states to push the “1.5 to stay alive” campaign. To keep the temperature increase to just 1.5 percent above pre-industrial levels or even 2 percent, signature of the Paris Agreement is just one step.

Signature is not the same as ratification

The turnout for the signature of the Paris Agreement is reported to be a record number for a new treaty. However, signature does not make a treaty legally binding on a signatory party unless the Treaty specifically provides for this. In the case of most treaties, like the Paris Agreement, it is only after a party has deposited its instrument of ratification (or accession, approval or accession) that it has consented to be bound by the treaty.

The ease of the domestic ratification process depends on the legal system and domestic political processes in each state. In the US, the type of international agreement determines the process. Article II, section 2 of the US Constitution requires approval of two-thirds of the US Senate for a treaty to be approved. Executive type agreements do not require congressional approval. Given the strong objection to the Paris Agreement in the Republican-controlled Congress, the US negotiators were careful to avoid any language or provisions, such as mandatory emission reduction targets, which would require Congressional approval of the agreement. However, the US has not yet ratified the Agreement and the upcoming US Presidential election this November could lead to a dramatic reversal in US policy on climate change depending on whom is elected president. No one wants a repeat of the Kyoto Protocol; the US had signed it but did not ratify and was therefore not bound by the Agreement.

According to Article 21, the Paris Agreement will enter into force 30 days after at least fifty-five parties which account for at least fifty-five percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) have deposited instruments of ratification. As at the time of writing this article, 177 parties have signed the agreement, which represents the vast majority but not all the 195 countries which negotiated the agreement in December. Conspicuously absent from the  signatures are several major oil producing states, namely Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Signature will be open for one year until April 2017 so there is still time for more states to sign.

Fifteen countries have so far ratified the Agreement, three of which with declarations. It is no surprise that SIDS led the way in the number of ratifications. Those countries which ratified already are the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Tuvalu, Palau, Somalia, Palestine, Barbados, Fiji, Grenada, St. Kitts & Nevis, Samoa, Maldives, St. Lucia, Mauritius and Belize.

Scaling Up of Climate Action

Even before the entry into force of the Agreement, countries will need to scale up their climate actions to reduce emissions. Prior to the conclusion of the Paris Agreement, most countries submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) which set out their policies, targets and actions for contributing to the reduction of GHG emissions. In Barbados’ INDC, for example, the country intends to achieve an economy-wide reduction in GHG emissions of 44 percent compared to its business as usual (BAU) scenario by 2030. In absolute terms, this means an intended reduction of 23 percent compared to 2008 levels.

However, the just released updated UN synthesis report of all INDCs communicated by Parties by 4 April 2016, a total of 189 Parties (96% of all Parties to the UNFCCC), found that the level of ambition is still not enough to lead to an increase of less than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. There is the need to deepen ambitions and convert intention to concrete actions and achievements. This will require planning, political will, cooperation among all stakeholders, the implementation of legislative frameworks and systems for monitoring progress, implementation and reporting.

Of critical importance will be the level of reduction of GHG emissions  by countries, such as the US, China, India and in Europe, which account for over 50 percent of global GHG emissions. However, domestic politics within these countries could be an issue for meeting their goals. As an example, in August 2015, US President Obama and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the Clean Power Plan to lower US emissions by curbing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants through shifting from coal-fired power to renewable power. Some major fossil fuel producing states like West Virginia and Texas have challenged the administration’s plan and by a 5-4 decision the US Supreme Court issued a stay of the Clean Power Plan pending judicial review. Additionally, there is no guarantee that the next US president will be as committed to the climate change mitigation goals set out by the Obama administration to reduce emissions between 26 to 28 percent by 2025, which already is a modest target.

Climate Finance for Adaptation and Mitigation

SIDS require financing not just to build climate-resilient infrastructure but to transition to climate-resilient economies. One of the stated goals in the preamble of the Paris Agreement is to jointly provide USD 100 billion annually by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation, and to provide appropriate technology and capacity-building support.

Many Caribbean States have been graduated from accessing grants and concessionary loans due to their relatively high gross domestic product per capita (GDP per capita), while their high levels of indebtedness also make borrowing on international markets difficult. While several climate change finance streams are available, including funding from Multilateral Development Banks, official development assistance and dedicated funds, some SIDS Governments have raised concern  that the red tape for accessing funds is often cumbersome.

What next for SIDS?

The signature of the Paris Agreement is just but one step. Though SIDS account for less than one percent of GHG emissions, we all have our part to play in lowering emissions and contributing to a climate-friendly future. Domestically, our governments need to focus on implementing our INDC commitments and encourage the use of climate friendly technologies, including in buildings, transportation and the agriculture, tourism and manufacturing sectors. This is not a task for governments alone, but will require continued cooperation with civil society, the business community and ordinary citizens.

It also requires the continued encouragement of a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. In Barbados’ INDC, it was noted that energy consumption accounted for 72% of our GHG emissions in 2008, followed by the waste sector (16%). Disconcertingly, major players in the island’s solar energy industry have complained that falling oil prices have led to a decrease in solar installations. Barbados has been a leader in the solar industry, with a high level of solar water heater use which  saved the country a reported US$100 million on its fuel import bill in 2002. We cannot allow the drop in oil prices to allow us to lose sight of the necessity of shifting from fossil fuels for achieving our climate goals and preserving an environmentally-sustainable future for the next generations.

On the multilateral level, continued participation and advocacy in climate change talks are a must for SIDS governments. As I had indicated in my previous article, the Paris Agreement is an important step but its efficacy will depend on its ratification and implementation and subsequent follow-up, especially by those countries which contribute the most to GHG emissions. The future of our states, and the world, depends on it.

The full text of the Paris Agreement may be found here. Barbados’ statement at the High-level signing ceremony may be found here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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