President-elect Donald Trump says he’ll abandon his predecessor’s global climate change deal, but that didn’t stop the Obama administration this week from rolling out a new, even more ambitious plan to cut U.S. emissions by 80 percent by 2050, undermining the incoming president on the world stage two months before his inauguration.
The latest proposal, which critics on Capitol Hill say is dead on arrival as soon as Mr. Trump enters the White House on Jan. 20, is being sold to the rest of the world as a long-term road map to U.S. greenhouse gas reductions. It comes as Mr. Trump is also under growing pressure from foreign governments and leading U.S. companies not to walk away from President Obama’s climate change vision.
Seeking to reassure the rest of the world, Secretary of State John F. Kerry told a United Nations climate conference in Morocco that U.S. progress against global warming essentially is permanent, all but ignoring the fact that Mr. Trump has made it crystal-clear he plans to scrap the administration’s climate agenda immediately.
As he touted the latest proposal to slash emissions even further, he also suggested to other world leaders that if the U.S. does reverse course and abdicate its leadership on climate change, Mr. Trump alone will be to blame.
“This really is a turning point. It is a cause for optimism, notwithstanding what you see in different countries with respect to politics and change,” Mr. Kerry said in a speech late Wednesday. “In no uncertain terms, the question now is not whether we will transition … to a clean energy economy. That we’ve already begun to do. The question now is whether or not we are going to have the will to get this job done.
“That’s the question now — whether we will make the transition in time to be able to do what we have to do to prevent catastrophic damage,” Mr. Kerry concluded.
The latest proposal represents the administration’s final attempt to secure President Obama’s legacy on climate change — a legacy Mr. Trump has vowed to undo, first by pulling the U.S. out of an agreement it signed in Paris last year vowing to cut emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025.
The cuts would be achieved through Environmental Protection Agency restrictions on emissions from coal-fired power plants, more renewable energy, energy-efficiency measures and other steps, most of which are already underway. The deal also requires China to cap its emissions by 2030 and then begin reducing them.
The new proposal unveiled in Morocco keeps all of those U.S. targets in place while setting another, even more ambitious long-term goal of reducing emissions by at least 80 percent over the next 35 years, a threshold that is achievable only through an accelerated move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable power.
Governments at the U.N. conference also passed a declaration calling their global warming progress “irreversible,” and reiterated a vow from wealthy nations to commit at least $100 billion to help poorer countries reduce their own emissions.
But critics say Mr. Kerry is wasting his time and is engaged in naked political posturing, and that any decisions reached at the meeting will be worthless within two months.
“Secretary Kerry’s pledge at the United Nation’s climate conference in Morocco is a last-ditch effort to save the president’s crumbling climate legacy. His pledge to cut emissions by 80 percent likely will be no more relevant to the incoming Trump administration than the president’s signature on the Paris Agreement,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Indeed, Mr. Trump said repeatedly on the campaign trail that he intends to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement, a deal he cast as a job-killing, big-government approach to energy and the environment.
The Trump transition team did not respond to a request for comment.
Back at home, Mr. Trump is facing new pressure to stick with Mr. Obama’s course on climate change. Hundreds of leading businesses, including Starbucks, IKEA, Hewlett-Packard, Kellogg, Staples and others on Thursday sent an open letter to Mr. Trump, calling on the billionaire for more government spending on low-carbon energy and asking that he continue to pursue the emissions targets set by the Obama administration.
“Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk. But the right action now will create jobs and boost US competitiveness,” the companies said in the letter. “We pledge to do our part, in our own operations and beyond, to realize the Paris Agreement’s commitment of a global economy that limits global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius.”
But public pressure essentially is the only leverage available against the incoming Trump administration. The Paris deal, and the long-term road map laid out this week, are not binding in any way because the agreement was never even submitted to the Senate, much less ratified — a necessary step to make the deal a legally binding treaty.
The U.S. environmental policies put in place to meet emissions targets can be reversed quickly by the next president, though some of the specific moves — such as states being forced through federal regulation to shutter coal-fired power plants — may be difficult to undo.
Specialists say Mr. Trump may take an extra step of asking the GOP-led Congress to formally reject the international deals, though such a step is by no means legally necessary.
“There’s talk about, do you send it to the Senate to be rejected? I think that’s a possibility, but it’s a nonbinding agreement,” said Chris Warren, vice president of communications at the conservative Institute for Energy Research. “To get the process started, all President-elect Trump has to do is come and say we’re not going to honor these empty commitments made by the Obama administration.”