WHILE CAMPAIGNING to be the President of the United States, on August 31 1988 to be precise, the elder George H.W. Bush stated “Those who think we are powerless to do anything about the greenhouse effect are forgetting about the White House effect.In my first year in office, I will convene a global conference on the environment at the White House. It will include the Soviets, the Chinese.... The agenda will be clear. We will talk about global warming.” As things transpired, it was a campaign promise that was never fulfilled. It also turned out to be the very last statement ever spoken by a major figure of the US Republican Party in support of any climate change mitigation efforts.
From that point to this day, the Republican Party has produced zero effort to address the climate crisis. When elected to be a US Senator for the first time in 1994, James Inhofe (Rep. – Okla.) declared that global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people. Since then the Republican Party seems to have adopted this sentiment as their official stance towards climate change, no matter how convincing and overwhelming the scientific evidence that suggests otherwise. Inhofe not only uttered words that contrast the scientific consensus, he also acted out his opposition. In late February 2015 during an address to the Senate, he brought in his hands a snowball, while exclaiming that this ball is evidence that the world is in the middle of a cooling, not warming as climate scientists have suggested.Those familiar with the facts and data on global warming, who understand that the term “Global Warming” refers to the increase of average temperature as opposed to a single temperature reading from one particular data point on a given day or time, made Inhofe a laughing stock. However, the fact that this disregard for scientific evidence has been adopted as the Republican Party’s de facto stance has proven itself to be a major roadblock for the Democratic President Barack Obama. During President Obama’s two terms, many of his efforts to produce policies on climate change have been met with significant and potent legislative opposition. Nevertheless, he still succeeded to put into effect a number of critical decisions relating to climate change by using his executive power, including the United States’ signing of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Paris Agreement. The Agreement itself has been heralded by many to be the most significant and monumental collective step globally to combat climate change. Fast forward to today, Donald Trump is now the President-elect of the United States of America. He started as a party outsider and somehow has managed to wrangle the presidential nomination for the party. The US Senate is also now dominated by Republican majority, at least for the next two years. Throughout his campaign, Trump has repeatedly stated that he does not believe that climate change and global warming is real, not unlike the stance adopted by the party since the infamous Inhofe statement. Not only that, Trump even declared that global warming is a made-up issue devised by China to weaken the US economy. The Republican party supporters, the majority of whom are ignorant on the truth and facts on climate change, swallowed whole the lies and misinformation promoted by Donald Trump. Early on in his campaign, one of the first things Trump did was to appoint Myron Ebell, a die-hard climate skeptic, as his pick for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in his transition team—some view this as a mock cabinet that will be put in place under his presidency. Ebell is currently the most likely contender for the actual position of Director of EPA. Meanwhile, the infamous Inhofe has now been appointed as the chair of the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works for the last few years. So there we have it: The trifecta of Trump, Ebell, and Inhofe, who collectively hold major and very significant power in determining the US environmental policies going forward, and all three of them are climate change deniers. It is no wonder that many environmental activists and observers are deeply troubled for the future, not just of the United States, but also the entire planet. Three Major Consequences
What are the potential impacts of this trifecta on the US going forward? Experts and observers have noted the following three consequences as the most important. First, is the renewed strengthening of the fossil fuel industry in the US, and the systematic weakening of renewable sources of energy. Second, withdrawal of the United States from the UNFCCC Paris Agreement. Third, restriction on funding for real efforts to curb climate change. It cannot be stressed enough that these three will have major consequences not only on the United States, but also the rest of the world including Indonesia. Strengthening of the fossil fuel industry leads to increased carbon emission. Experts have noted that for the world to have any real chance to curb global warming below the 2 degrees above pre-industrial average limit by the year 2100, we need to ensure that two thirds – some even posit up to 80% (e.g. Bill McKibben from350.org) – of our fossil fuel reserves must be left unexploited. The movement “Keep It in The Ground” has gained global attention and traction. Thus, massive exploitation of fossil fuel sources by the US will certainly make it more challenging for us to reach the 2degrees Celsius target, and will have to involve deeper major curbing of fossil energy and other emission sources by other countries to make up for the United States emission. Closely linked to the above, withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement will also result in major challenges for other countries. While it should be noted that some have estimated that it will take minimally four years for Trump to undo Obama’s support in the Agreement, yet the uncertainty will cast a shadow of doubt on all the other participating countries. The US is now the 2nd largest carbon emitter in the world, having only been surpassed by China recently: in mid-2016 the World Resource Institute has estimated that China contributes 20.09% of global carbon emission, while the US emitted 17.89%. Therefore, the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement will render the Agreement ineffective. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement by a country that single-handedly produces almost 18% of our global carbon emission would almost certainly spell disaster for its overall outcome. As things stand, the collective commitments by all the participating countries through their the (Intended) Nationally Determined Contributions, or (I)NDC, still have a long way to go to achieve the 2 degrees or 1.5 degrees Celsius intended target. US withdrawal would mean major restructuring of other countries’ commitments in order to arrive at deeper cuts to their carbon emissions, or, a harder bargain with the United States. As for funding, the US contribution towards climate change management efforts have been quite significant although it is not the largest. Still, the loss of this funding source to the international community will put a major roadblock towards achieving the intended target of annual USD100 billion that is expected to be made available by the year 2020. Most affected by this loss of funding would be developing countries who have minimal resources of their own to mitigate or adapt to climate change. Lessons for Indonesia
It is quite easy to see that the above three consequences will greatly affect Indonesia, as one of the countries with significant – albeit at a “lowly” 1.49% – contribution to the total global emission that is expected to make deep cuts to its carbon emissions. Indonesia’s commitment as submitted through its (I)NDC is to curb its emission by 29% by the year 2030; a number that many find to be underwhelming given the largely unmanaged and unexplored potentials to cut emissions further through energy and land-based sectors. With the likely possibility of the US renewing and increasing its use of fossil fuel, the pressure for Indonesia to curb its emissions will also increase, and will only strengthen with the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Indonesia will most likely be expected to actively participate in negotiation with the US to prevent it from abandoning the Agreement. Back home, US sources of funding for climate change has allowed many programs to be undertaken in Indonesia especially in relation to climate change adaptation. Restriction or termination of this funding will significantly challenge Indonesia’s ability to address climate change. However, these immediate challenges offer some important lessons to be learned for Indonesia. First, the urgency and magnitude of impact of Donald Trump’s presidency on climate change serves as a great and harsh reminder of how gravely Indonesia has been and will be affected by the climate crisis, and therefore we need to shore up our commitments and efforts to address the issue much more significantly than what we have demonstrated thus far. Secondly, these commitments must be reflected in the form of coherent cross-sectoral policies. Many would agree that Indonesia’s efforts to address climate change thus far can be described as “incoherent” and “mediocre”, which does not bode well for our impending challenges. Third, Indonesia needs to adopt a firmer stance on climate change by adopting resilient and low-carbondevelopment as our main mitigation and adaptation strategy, which will signal Indonesia’s serious commitment to the global community and brings us to a much more respectable position in the global negotiation for climate efforts. Fourth, Indonesia needs to show a much more active participation in the global diplomacy with major carbon emitter countries as well as other island nations in order to keep the Paris Agreement in effect. This includes active contribution in the negotiation with the US to not leave the Agreement, to ease the consequences on other countries. Lastly, the lesson here is one of independence and sufficiency. The stunning change in leadership of the US highlights the need for Indonesia to adopt external resources only and strictly as supplemental in our effort to manage climate change, due to their unreliable and unpredictable nature. We must ensure we have set aside sufficient amount of our own resources so that even in the absence of outside financial support we are still able to provide our communities and future generations the protection and resilience they need to withstand the impact of climate change. To this extent, Indonesia already has official guidelines through the Financial Services Authority’s (OJK/Otoritas Jasa Keuangan) Sustainable Financing Roadmap document that was published two years ago and highlights the path to create sufficient pool of funding for Indonesia’s sustainable future. The implementation of this Roadmap, along with other financing opportunities through the involvement of the private entities and state-owned enterprises of all sectors are obvious avenues for funding that need to be urgently utilized for our climate management efforts. Donald Trump’s election as the President of the United States may prove a nightmare for global environmental sustainability. But it is up to us to wake up from the nightmare and begin our work to ensure the it doesn’t become a reality. Note: Indonesian version of this article is published in Mongabay Indonesia on November 11th 2016, and can be accessed through Mongabay Indonesia. The author thank Dr. Shobi Lawalata-Dobbs of United in Diversity for the translation.