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Trump’s plan to reverse Obama’s climate agenda a trial for Trudeau

Donald Trump defends businesses such as this coal-fired power plant in West Virginia.

ROBERT GALBRAITH/REUTERS

The United States – the world's second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases – is poised to retreat from its international role of climate leader as president-elect Donald Trump prepares to unshackle the country's fossil-fuel sector.

His plan to gut U.S. President Barack Obama's climate agenda would be a tricky economic and political challenge for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who aims to conclude a pan-Canadian strategy next month that would include a national carbon pricing program and regulatory measures to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley already faces criticism in her province for her planned carbon levies, and the likelihood that Washington will vacate the climate-policy field will increase pressure on her New Democratic Party government.

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Mr. Trump will clearly shift the U.S. energy policy away from a focus on climate and renewable power to a greater emphasis on exploiting domestic sources of coal, oil and natural gas.

That expected U-turn is raising concerns abroad about maintaining global momentum on climate action. Negotiators are gathering in Morocco this week for the annual United Nations summit, just days after the Paris climate accord, which 197 countries accepted last year, came into force.

The Moroccan chair of the conference, Foreign Affairs Minister Salaheddine Mezouar, congratulated Mr. Trump on Wednesday for his victory and urged him to respect U.S. commitments under the Paris deal.

"The climate-change question transcends politics, and concerns the preservation of our livelihood, dignity and the only planet on which we all live," he wrote in a statement.

However, Scientific American reported on Wednesday that Mr. Trump has appointed a renowned climate skeptic to head his transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency, which under Mr. Obama has been responsible for regulatory actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

During the election campaign, the New York real estate mogul played down the dangers of a warming climate and pledged to revitalize the depressed coal industry, rescind Mr. Obama's clean-power plan, revoke policies that restrict drilling, and withdraw from the Paris accord.

And while campaign promises do not always materialize, Mr. Trump has allies in the Republican-controlled Congress who are eager to ensure his broad energy agenda is implemented.

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Removing climate-related costs from U.S. energy production and consumption would change the calculus for the Canadian government's pursuit of carbon pricing policies such as taxes and cap-and-trade programs.

"I think that, for Canada, the competitiveness issues [in climate policy] are about to get nasty again," said Robert Johnston, chief executive of Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy in New York.

In a statement on Wednesday, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said the election made clear that the United States will not adopt carbon pricing, and noted that voters in Washington State rejected a ballot measure to adopt a carbon tax.

"It makes no sense for our federal government to push ahead with imposing a national carbon tax when our biggest trading partner – and our biggest competitor for investment and jobs – is not going to have one," Mr. Wall said on Facebook.

However, Ms. Notley reaffirmed her commitment to the government's climate plan, saying it was formulated with competitiveness in mind.

She said it is important to move forward with the policy because climate change is a real threat, and because Alberta must improve its environmental reputation with international trading partners. Also, it is a key tool to help diversify the economy as oil prices remain depressed.

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She noted that the United States had not yet instituted a carbon price under Mr. Obama.

"Our climate leadership plan took into account the differential [in carbon costs] and took into account Alberta as the only mover, quite frankly," she told reporters.

Most carbon pricing plans in Canada – whether in Alberta, Ontario or Quebec – have "baked in" the competitiveness concerns by providing breaks to energy-intensive industries that compete internationally, environmental economist David Sawyer said.

Given the global move to a low-carbon economy, Canada cannot afford to stand by and wait for the United States, Mr. Sawyer said. To do so would result in even greater transition costs in the future, he said.

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