The Republican candidate has threatened to scrap the Paris deal and offered support for coal, but is he serious, asks George Robinson.
Now that Donald Trump has the required number of delegates to be the Republican candidate for the US presidency, analysts are scrambling to identify just what this might mean for the country and the world.
There have already been some initial attempts. In May, Laurent Fabius, who was French foreign minister during the Paris climate talks, described Trump as a climate change denier and said his election as president could see the climate agreement derailed.
Trump confirmed this sentiment on May 26th in a speech in North Dakota. While not directly addressing climate change, he pledged to “cancel” the Paris agreement and to only work with environmentalists whose “agenda is protecting nature”.
Whether he can cancel the Paris agreement is highly debatable. If it is ratified before he can assume the presidency, then the US will be locked into it for four years. He can, however, just order his future government not to follow any of its stipulations. The international opprobrium that will follow probably won’t trouble his conscience too much.
The rest of Trump’s speech fell along similar lines: “A Trump administration will focus on real environmental challenges, not phoney ones.” He also called for a rolling back of bureaucracy and barriers – without much elucidation of what exactly these were – blaming them for holding back the coal industry (the darling of the North Dakotan economy) and stifling competition.
What he skipped around was the fact that the biggest threat to coal comes from shale gas and renewable sources of energy, providing the much-needed competition he had earlier lauded in the very same speech. And with his ambition to kickstart the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, coal prices would only be squeezed further.
Another focus was on energy security, with Trump pledging to make the US completely energy independent. Again, Keystone XL would not exactly help in this regard. A direct flow of cheap tar sands into the US would probably be more cost-effective than many home-grown alternatives.
Whether this speech represents Trump’s real thoughts is dubious. Pinning
him down on any policy position is no easy task, and the Guardian reported that much of his speech was based on advice from Kevin Cramer, a US representative from the state. It is more likely that he simply wanted to say something that would get him cheers and applause, and not alienate his right- wing base.
Trump is first and foremost a populist – somebody who likes telling people what they want to hear. This is why he promises an awkward combination of deregulation and protectionism for the energy industry, something that it is hard to imagine working in practice.
Perhaps we need to wait until he is being effectively challenged by Hillary Clinton before we see a serious policy programme. Clinton’s hands have so far been full fighting off the challenge from Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary.
Once Trump is being properly scrutinised, however, he won’t be able to get away with delegating policy to Republican congressmen. He will need policies that will convince moderate swing voters that he
is serious about putting in place a framework to tackle the serious energy problems – both national and global – that will present themselves over the coming years.
George Robinson is a consultant at Westbourne Communications.