Israeli activist Alon Tal warns that U.S. environmental groups may be powerless to prevent President-elect Donald Trump’s pro-business outlook.
Zafrir Rinat Nov 13, 2016

The election of Donald Trump to the White House cast a giant shadow over the United Nations conference on climate change, which began in Marrakesh this week.

As voters in the United States were choosing their next president, representatives of almost 200 nations met in Morocco for the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties on climate change, which runs through Friday.

They are holding meetings on how to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement on limiting global warming, and to celebrate its going into effect after being officially approved by enough countries, including the United States.

But President-elect Trump is now the chief representative of the camp that thinks his country, as well as the entire world, has an overabundance of environmental regulation, which damages the free market and economy. The greatest threat to this viewpoint today is the agreement to slow down climate change, which is intended to force nations – first and foremost the United States – to begin investing in renewable energy and reduce their dependence on fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and oil.

The favorite weapon of opponents of the climate change agreement is to deny that the problem even exists. Usually, they argue that no scientific proof exists that global warming (if it even exists) is caused by humans. Trump follows this approach, of course – but he has added his own theory that global warming is an idea started by the Chinese as part of a plot to give them an economic advantage over the United States.

Given Trump’s statements during the election campaign that he will cancel the United States’ participation in the Paris Agreement, organizations working on international climate policy are extremely concerned.

“Today, the United States is the only country in the world whose [incoming] leader denies the existence of climate change as a result of human action,” says Tel Aviv University’s Prof. Alon Tal, an environmental activist. Tal grew up in the United States and this week flew there especially to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s approach to the climate change agreement is one of the reasons why, for the first time in many years, he went to vote, Tal says. He adds that his sense is not one of being worried, but a true fear of a retreat in the activities to save the Earth from a warming climate.

If no climate change problem exists, he says, the logic will be: why not expand the oil and coal industries? One of the biggest fears is that Trump will allow the opening of nature reserves to gas and oil drilling, adds Tal.

Trump is expected to support the building of new oil pipelines, including the Dakota Access Pipeline, which Native Americans have been protesting against for the past few months, Tal says.

Another plan is to connect the Keystone Pipeline from Canada to more regions in the United States, which the Obama administration has blocked thus far. Of course, Trump has previously declared he will support it. He is also expected to back expanded coal mining, which has led to the widespread destruction of mountain peaks in the eastern United States.

Nonetheless, Tal is trying to retain some small hope of change in the president-elect. “He is unpredictable and it may be possible to change his opinion – maybe through countries such as Japan and South Korea, who are committed to the climate agreement,” says Tal. The big difference between Trump and George W. Bush, adds Tal, is that the president-elect is not tied to the oil companies, who supported Bush.

Tal is also concerned by the possibility that Trump will reduce the authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This week, Scientific American reported that the member of Trump’s transition team to head the working group on the EPA is climate change denier Myron Ebell, who chairs a conservative group that works against global-warming prevention programs.

Republicans were not always against environmental regulation. Richard Nixon established the EPA in 1970, and major environmental legislation was passed during his tenure. Over the years, the EPA’s activities began to hamper large corporations and restrict their operations. Consequently, most Republican leaders over the past few decades have taken the side of big business and held out against stricter environmental regulation.

One of the Obama administration’s most important initiatives in environmental affairs was to limit pollution from power plants, which Trump will most likely try to annul.

We may be able to learn about Trump’s attitude toward protecting nature and the environment in the United States from his business activities in other countries in recent years. He promoted a huge golf course project in a stretch of sand dunes in northern Scotland, which had been marked for preservation. The local residents fought the plan, but ultimately Trump’s company received building permission.

It’s reasonable to assume that if this was his approach to natural resources and the landscape when he was a private businessman, it will continue to be his approach as president. For example, he may not particularly care that the security wall he has proposed for the southern border with Mexico will destroy the ecological system in the area, whose existence depends on a continuity of open spaces.

Environmental groups in the United States are preparing for a new era. For example, the Sierra Club called on Obama to finish as many steps to protect the environment as he can before leaving office. These include promoting bans on new offshore gas and oil drilling, declaring more sites as national monuments as well as advancing more air pollution reduction regulations.

Annie Leonard, the executive director of Greenpeace U.S.A., said in response to the election results, “Fear may have won this election, but hope, action and perseverance can overcome.

“Greenpeace and millions of people around the world have all the power we need to combat climate change and create a just world for everyone. Let’s use this moment to reenergize the fight for the climate and the fight for human rights around the world,” wrote Leonard.

Tal sounds skeptical about the chances of environmental organizations succeeding in their fight against the new administration. During the Bush era, they made fighting declarations and yet the United States continued to emit large quantities of gases that cause climate change, he says.
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Environmentalists: Trump could ‘change the whole world’s atmosphere’

In the wake of a Donald Trump presidency, Israeli environmentalists expressed fear that the United States may backpedal on its climate commitments, thereby putting the rest of the world at risk.

“What Trump says is very bad from the worldwide environmental perspective,” Amit Bracha, executive director of Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense), told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

“He said he’s going to cancel the Paris Agreement, the American obligation to the Paris summit. He said he’s going to cancel the presidential orders regarding climate change.”

The Paris Agreement, which officially came into force on November 4, is a universal climate accord adopted on December 12 at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, also known as the Conference of Parties 21 (COP-21).

Signatories to the agreement determined that the global temperature rise must be kept well below 2°C by means of varying national targets.

Although Israel has yet to ratify the agreement, Environmental Protection Ministry officials said on Monday that they plan to raise the ratification for government approval next week.

In May, Trump warned that as president he would cancel the agreement, describing the accord as “bad for US business,” and previously calling climate change a “hoax.”

Acknowledging that Trump has said he intends to invest money in protecting America’s environment and its water resources, Bracha argued that taking the climate as a whole under consideration is critical.

“America, being one of the biggest polluters in the world, together with China and India, cannot disregard the Paris summit,” he said.

“Being the watchdog of the world and being such an influential country, they are not only obliged to the agreement, but they must be at the front of it,” Bracha added. “They have to lead it toward reducing greenhouse gases. Their job is to be the leader of the Paris Agreement.”

American-Israeli solar-energy entrepreneur Yosef Abramowitz, who was a member of the Israeli negotiating team last year in Paris, expressed similar sentiments on Monday.

“The historic global climate agreement went into effect four days prior to the US elections, and Israel is a signatory to that agreement,” said Abramowitz, CEO of Energiya Global Capital, which builds solar fields in the US and Africa.

“The Trump transition team has prepared a draft executive order canceling the US support for the climate deal, which would basically doom western US communities to increased fires and extreme drought and coastal communities to the effects of rising sea levels and supercharged hurricanes,” he said. “A loss of American leadership on climate would mean that our children and grandchildren will suffer from greater air pollution, increased food scarcity and increased political turmoil around the globe.”

In America, Greenpeace USA campaigned against Trump in the weeks prior to the election, using the hashtags “#ClimateVoter” and “#StopTrump” in its messages of Facebook and Twitter to voters. With an image of the Statue of Liberty sinking in the ocean, the group stresses that “four years of climate denial would be a catastrophe,” asking: “Is this what it would take to convince Trump it’s not just the weather?” On Wednesday morning, Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard said, “Fear may have won this election, but bravery, hope and perseverance will overcome.”

“Greenpeace and millions of people around the world have all the power we need to combat climate change and create a just world for everyone,” she added. “Let’s use this moment to re-energize the fight for the climate and the fight for human rights around the world.”

Israeli climate-policy specialist Naor Yerushalmi, who was also part of Israel’s delegation to Paris last year, stressed that although Trump’s positions are cause for global concern, revoking America’s adoption of the Paris Agreement would not be an easy task.

“Everything can be reversed, of course, but the process is very complicated, and it would take Congress and the government together to turn it back,” he said.

However, Yerushalmi, who is the former CEO of Life and Environment, the umbrella organization for Israel’s green groups, warned that Trump could still create major stumbling blocks to the global effort to combat climate change.

“If the US will step out of this process, it will be seriously harmful,” he said on Monday.

For example, Yerushalmi said, the US ratified the Paris Agreement alongside China, and an American decision to step away from its commitments could prompt China to follow suit. In addition, the Trump administration could bring renewed financing to coal and oil development, he said.

“The whole world is watching, and this can create a change in the whole world’s atmosphere,” Yerushalmi said. “He has the power for that and can cause a chain reaction.”