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US goes rogue on climate

  • 17 November 2016


Spare a thought for Al Gore. The recent US election must have brought back painful memories of his own knife-edge loss to George W. Bush in 2000. Like fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton, Gore won the popular vote but fell short of the Electoral College votes needed for the presidency.

Then there are the excruciating similarities in his pet policy area, climate change. In 2000 Gore ran for president after an international agreement to reduce greenhouse pollution — the Kyoto Protocol — had just gotten started. After Gore lost, the Bush administration's aggressive opposition to the deal cast a pall over future negotiations, hampering global ambition.

Now here we go again. Just a few days after the historic Paris Agreement on climate change entered force, another Republican climate denier has snatched the White House, and this one is from the kooky fringe.

Donald Trump once famously tweeted 'The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.' During the campaign, he bellowed that he would 'cancel' the Paris Agreement and 'stop all payments of US tax dollars to UN global warming programs'.

There's more. For years during cold snaps Trump would tweet variations of the line 'It's snowing and freezing in NYC. What the hell ever happened to global warming?' You can see similar tweets here.

So Trump isn't just a closet sceptic, paying lip-service to climate change while doing nothing about it. He's an out-and-proud conspiracy theorist. All signs point to the US returning to its role as international climate saboteur, and for much the same reasons: Republican paranoia over the economic rise of China.

Many Republicans see a UN climate agreement as a threat to sovereignty and economic competitiveness. In 1997, the US Senate passed a resolution not to sign the Kyoto Protocol partly because it mandated targets on rich developed countries but not developing countries like China or Brazil. The Bush administration later pulled out of the protocol completely. (Actually China ratified it in 2002, but with a target of a less emissions-intensive economy, not an absolute reduction in emissions.)

Analysing the Kyoto Protocol for International Affairs in 2006, Australian academic Peter Christoff wrote that US resistance to Kyoto related to 'ambition to remain the global hegemon'. Emergent states like China, he explained, 'represent a major challenge to its own political and economic status'.


"Perhaps the greatest damage Trump could inflict is to undermine global ambition. Climate change