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Trump set to roll back Obama’s climate plan

The US President’s executive order will instruct the Environment Protection Agency to begin the legal process for withdrawing Obama’s Clean Power Plan that focussed on shutting down highly polluting coal-power plants and replacing them with those using renewable energy.

world Updated: Mar 28, 2017 21:38 IST
Yashwant Raj
Trump has already reversed other Obama-era environment-related restrictions such as those on mining and drilling.
Trump has already reversed other Obama-era environment-related restrictions such as those on mining and drilling.(AP)

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday is expected to sign an executive order granting federal regulators sweeping powers to roll back measures initiated by his predecessor Barack Obama to cut carbon emission, a move that could potentially jeopardise America’s ability to meet its Paris Agreement commitments.

The executive order will instruct the Environment Protection Agency to begin the legal process for withdrawing Obama’s Clean Power Plan that focussed on shutting down highly polluting coal power plants and replacing them with those using renewable energy, remove the freeze on coal mining on federal lands, and kill an instruction mandating all federal agencies to consider the environment cost of every decision.

A senior administration official said the goal was to make the US “energy dependent”, and as far as climate change was concerned, “we want to take our course and do it in our own form and fashion.”

The order is also aimed at saving coal-mine jobs — a poll promise by Trump — that have been shrinking because of automation and a market-driven shift towards cheaper and cleaner natural gas for power generation.

Trump has already reversed other Obama-era environment-related restrictions such as those on mining and drilling.

The new order is said to be silent on the Paris Agreement, an ambitious global compact which went into effect in November 2016 and was signed by 175 states including the US, India and China, but experts have said the unintended consequences of the new rules would prevent the US from fulfilling its commitments.

Trump had vowed to tear up the agreement and pull the US out of the agreement during while he was campaigning, but has been ambivalent about it since his election, saying as president-elect that he had an “open mind to it”, and that clean air and “crystal clear water” were vitally important.

Briefing reporters on the order on Monday, an administration official said a decision had not been taken on Paris Agreement yet.

The Eiffel tower is illuminated in green with the words "Paris Agreement is Done", to celebrate the UN COP21 Climate Change agreement in Paris on November 4, 2016. (Reuters File)

Under the Paris Agreement, the United States pledged to cut its carbon emissions by between 26% to 28% of the 2005 levels by 2025 as part of the effort to reduce emissions to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

“Meeting the US terms of the Paris Agreement would require full enforcement of the current regulations, plus additional regulations,” Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University, told the New York Times. “It takes a comprehensive effort involving every country doing what they committed to and more.”

He added that Trump’s order “sends a signal to other countries that they might not have to meet their commitments — which would mean that the world would fail to stay out of the climate danger zone.”

Robert Jackson, chair of the Earth System Science department at Stanford University, told New Republic, “If we pull back from the Clean Power Plan, and especially if we roll back vehicle fuel efficiency standards, we have almost no hope of reaching our Paris climate commitments.”

India, which has committed to cutting Emissions Intensity of GDP (emissions per unit of GDP) by 33 or 35% compared to 2005 levels by 2030, will be closely studying the new order executive order for what it could mean for the Paris Agreement, as will be other countries.

If America pulls out of the accord or decides to disregard its targets — voluntarily adopted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions — other countries, who took some convincing to sign up, might be tempted to follow suit.