Is It Possible To Undo Trump’s Legacy Of Anti-Climate Action?

Holly Aldridge 

Donald Trump left office in January earlier this year, however, his climate legacy will prove much harder to eradicate. Trump’s presidency is now considered infamous by many, one of the main reasons being his public dismissal of climate concerns.

The Trump administration rolled-back or significantly watered down over 100 vital pieces of climate legislation, which has left the matter of climate change in a far more vulnerable position than it was when he entered office in 2016.

Trump’s approach to climate policies was rooted within a pro-business and ‘America First’ framework. Economic growth and business concerns were put ahead of the climate agenda throughout Trump’s time in office.

These actions have significantly slowed down the process of tackling climate change. Michael Wara, a climate and energy expert at Stanford
University has stated that the ‘climate crisis is gaining momentum’ which means that Trump’s actions will have ‘more lasting consequences’ than any other administration.

Trump has pushed the planet further into the red zone regarding climate change

Wara’s claims show the severity of the situation and highlight that Trump has pushed the planet further into the red zone regarding climate change.

Barack Obama implemented the Clean Power Plan during his tenure which aims to reduce carbon emissions from cars and trucks. Trump replaced this piece of legislation with the Affordable Clean Energy Act which favours big business and has only benefitted large oil companies.

This was one of the major roll-backs initiated by Trump and is a manifestation of his tendency to place economic considerations ahead of emission targets.

Michael Gerrard, an environmental law professor at the University of Columbia has stated that Tump has ‘completely halted and reversed the momentum that was built up during the Obama administration in fighting climate change’, through these rollbacks.

The reversal of Obama’s legislation is a continuation of the trend in American politics where environmental legislation remains in limbo between Democratic and Republican governments.

This was seen on a large scale when Ronald Reagan reversed a series of
Jimmy Carter’s environmental policies in the 1980s.

The Washington Post have reported that ‘the chasm between Biden’s agenda and Trump’s legacy is one of the widest in recent decades’, which emphasises just how much work is needed to be done to rectify the damage Trump has had on the environment.

Additionally, Trump opened up vast areas of American land and water for industrial development, by watering down some of the legislation which had been in place to protect it. This resulted in the approval of the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access pipelines.

Opening up this land for business initiatives has proved hugely detrimental to the environment throughout Trump’s presidency, and will be difficult and time-consuming to reverse.

One of Trump’s most high-profile climate rollbacks came in 2017, when he removed the United States from the Paris Peace Agreement. The agreement was drawn up in 2015, and committed 190 countries to protecting the environment by setting universal emission targets.

Until Trump’s presidency, the US had been one of the most vocal members of the agreement, and were setting precedent for other nations in working to combat climate change.

The decision to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement has had a negative global effect. Many other countries within the agreement began to alter their climate priorities alongside the US.

The departure of the US from the Paris Agreement had a ripple effect, demonstrating the global legacy of Trump’s climate policy

Rachel Cleetus, a Climate Policy Director for the Union of Concerned
Scientists has asserted that ‘there was a sense among countries that if you have one of the biggest emitters not contributing, why should we?’.

The departure of the US from the Paris Agreement had a ripple effect, demonstrating the global legacy of Trump’s climate policy. However, Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, re-joined the Paris Peace Agreement in his first few hours in office earlier this year.

This is a hugely positive step forward and symbolises hope as the climate agenda is firmly back within the White House. Biden has placed the US back
within the ‘global framework of climate considerations’, and has thus moved away from Trump’s unilateral approach.

Climate change was at the centre of Biden’s campaign, with his ‘climate plan’ stating that he intends to ‘rally the rest of the world to meet the threat of climate change’.

The re-joining of the Paris Agreement is evidence that he is following
through on his pledge to reunite the world to tackle climate change. Biden has already begun a mass reversal of Trump’s rollbacks, and is bringing legislation into line with the severity of the situation.

Biden’s climate advisor, Gina McCarthy, has stated that they will ‘begin undoing some of the harmful actions that happened in the previous
administration’s watch’, which is a positive message from the government that climate change is firmly at the centre of their agenda.

The environmental push on the first day of Biden’s presidency was one of the biggest of any president and has been dubbed by many as ‘climate day’.

The inaction of the Trump administration has allowed climate change to gain momentum

The Guardian reported that this was the biggest day for climate action in
over a decade, which is a hugely positive step in the right direction. Noah Kaufman, a climate policy expert at Columbia University has commented that ‘what hasn’t happened over the last four years is much more important than what has happened’.

The inaction of the Trump administration has allowed climate change to gain momentum, however, the actions already being undertaken by Biden and his team represent a monumental shift in policy outlook.

The president of the Wilderness Society, Jamie Williams, stated of Biden’s first days in office that ‘today we are feeling the first rays of hope after four dark years’ under Trump.

Mr Williams’ comment speaks for the psyche of much of the population and the world in expressing the hope for the climate that Biden brings with him.
Having said this, Trump’s legacy has exacerbated and catalysed the global climate crisis, which will be hard to slow down, let alone eradicate.

The fact that the Trump administration slowed down the process of tackling climate change to such a degree means that drastic measures will need to be taken to see tangible results.

National Geographic has asserted that each year with ‘no progress or the opposite of progress makes the ultimate goal that little bit more unattainable’. Therefore, it is evident that Trump’s legacy has only further
entrenched climate change.

It is apparent that we will be feeling the reverberations of Trump’s climate legacy for years to come, despite the environmental legislation that is being reinstated or created under Biden.

Even though Biden is making strong headway in re-asserting strong environmental frameworks, some of Trump’s actions will be near to impossible to eradicate, such as the excess of emissions that were enabled during his presidency.

We have reached a point where climate change cannot afford to be highly politicised and compromised in the name of economic growth

For climate change to be permanently moving in the right direction a strong effort will need to be maintained by both political parties in order to establish a strong environmental framework.

We have reached a point where climate change cannot afford to be highly
politicised and compromised in the name of economic growth.

For Trump’s climate legacy to be completely reversed, there needs to be a fundamental systemic change, in the US and worldwide, that will allow environmental considerations to remain at the forefront of socio-
political consciousness.

Biden’s actions so far provide much hope that this could soon become a reality.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

Holly Aldridge 

Featured image courtesy of Markus Spiske via Unsplash. Image license found hereNo changes were made to this image. 

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