TRNN at COP22: Donald Trump’s Climate Change Denialism Is About to Collide With Geopolitical Reality

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Environmental lawyer Clare Lakewood discusses the legal and political obstacles to Donald Trump’s abandonment of U.S. commitments under the Paris climate accord.

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DIMITRI LASCARIS, TRNN: This is Dimitri Lascaris for the Real News in Marrakech, Morocco at the venue for COP22.

We’re standing outside the international broadcast center and I’m here today with Clare Lakewood of the Center for Biological Diversity which is based in California. Clare is a staff attorney with the senator. Thank you so much for joining us.

CLARE LAKEWOOD: Thank you for having me.

LASCARIS: So, the Paris Accord which was hailed by the countries participating as a historic accord which was basically raising the game of the international community in terms of the fight against climate change came into force on November 4th I understand. Prior to that time, China and the United States both ratified the agreement and I want to talk to you first of all about the means by which Obama chose to ratify the Paris Accord and what implications that has for President-elect Trump’s desire or stated desire to pull the United States out of the Accord.

CLARE LAKEWOOD: Sure. So, President Obama chose to enter the Paris Agreement as a n executive action. So, his other options under the constitution in the United States were to enter the agreement as a treaty which would’ve required approval by two-thirds of the senate. That was going to be extremely difficult for him to obtain in the political situation he was in. The other option that was available to him was to enter the Paris agreement as an executive agreement under existing authority he had under preexisting legislation. It’s our view he could have done that. That there are provisions in the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and certain other pieces of legislation that meant that that would’ve been an option. The state department had a different view and they took the view that an executive action was the most appropriate option. To be fair, that’s how 90% of our international agreements in the United States have been entered since the United States became an independent country.

LASCARIS: Because President Obama chose to go that route, what does that mean for President Elect Trump as I said, stated desire to get out of the Paris Accord? Does that make it harder? Does that make it easier for him to do that?

LAKEWOOD: So for Trump to withdraw from the Paris Agreement he’ll need to follow the steps that are set out in the Paris Agreement. That would actually be a 4 year process for him. The other option is to withdraw from the UN FCCC which is the framework agreement which the Paris agreement was formed under. That would be a quicker process but it’s much more of a nuclear option. That’s going to have much bigger ramifications on the international stage. It’s going to be even more isolating for the United States than pulling out just the Paris Agreement.

LASCARIS: So, sort of the centerpiece as I understand it of President Obama’s efforts to ensure that the United States meets its obligations under the Paris Accord was something called the clean power plan which I understand is not a piece of legislation but a rule that’s propagated under existing legislation. Can you tell us a little bit broadly speaking what that was designed to achieve and how it sought to achieve its goals?

LAKEWOOD: Yea sure. The Clean Power Plan was made a s regulation so just with Obama’s authority it didn’t go through congress. It aimed to reduce the emissions from Paris stations across the country. They’re our largest source of Greenhouse gas emissions. About a third of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions. It set caps in each state of the total emissions that are allowed. It becomes a very complex plan as to how that’s carried out. There are very different ways of calculating it. States can potentially trade their emissions credits. But in short it was going to reduce emissions from the power sector or it will reduce emissions from the power sector by about a third.

LASCARIS: I understand that shortly after this rule was [propagated] and came into force, a very important piece of litigation erupted in the courts of the United States. On the one side you had the energy industry or elements of the energy industry and I think it’s fair to say right wing elements within the political sphere in the United States. On the other side you had the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency and a bunch of environmental organizations. Currently where does that litigation stand?

LAKEWOOD: So there are all the arguments have been heard for that piece of litigation about whether not the clean power plan is valid, whether it can go forward. We’re waiting on a decision from the DC courts right now. I think it’s really important to emphasis that it wasn’t just the EPA and the environmental groups that intervened as well. Because I say it’s good economic sense.

LASCARIS: How difficult or easy would it be for President-elect Trump to bring an end to the clean Power Plan?

LAKEWOOD: Its’ not as simple as a stroke of the pen. He will have to follow the process for making a new regulation or withdrawing a regulation that require notice, common rule making. A lot of this, the detail is really unknown because we don’t know what he’s planning to do. His campaign said a lot of things but there was very little detail in the polices. I think what we can be certain about though is there’s going to e a lot of really close scrutiny of any of his action.

LASCARIS: And you’re here sort of in the trenches on behalf of the center for biological diversity. All of us are trying to grapple with the implications of this rather surprising electoral outcome in the United States. What have you heard thus far from other participants in COP22 about what this means for the future of the Paris Accord and its implementation?

LAKEWOOD: I’m actually getting a real sense of not positivity but an overwhelming commitment to the Paris Agreement. We’re seeing already that other countries are coming out firmly saying if the US wants to pull out, it’s going to leave the US standing alone because the rest of us are all in. China has already come out and said that they’d be really happy to take a leading role in seeing the Paris Agreement implemented if the United States isn’t around. As far as civil society groups on the ground, faith groups, labor groups, green groups, gender groups. We’re seeing a commitment to seeing the Paris Agreement through. The fact that one man that might want to pull us out doesn’t mean that the United States is out of the game. There’s a lot of action we can still od as a community, as a people, as states at the local level.

LASCARIS: So, you think that this might have potentially the opposite effect of one that many people anticipate which is sort of Kyoto style collapse in international support for the Paris Accord. This could actually have a galvanizing effect.

LAKEWOOD: Certainly not seeing any hints that this is going to be another Kyoto. It’s certainly galvanizing communities within the United States. They’re organizing. They’re prepared to fight for this agreement. I think they’re going to have support of the international community.

LASCARIS: And to what extent do you sense that there was a disparity between the rhetoric we heard from Trump, the climate change denialism into a forth and the reality of what he’s going to do once in office?

LAKEWOOD: I think now that he’s in office, he’s going to have to take a really hard look at what pulling out of the Paris Agreement means. It’s only going to hurt the America that he says he wants to protect. It’s only going to hurt Americans. It’s going to destroy jobs. It’s not going to create them. IT’s going to hurt communities on the front line of climate change in the United States. He’s also going to see himself isolated on the international stage. He says he wants to fight ISIS. That’s going to be a lot harder when a lot of countries are unhappy with some other action you’ve taken.

LASCARIS: Well thank you very much for joining us today Clare and perhaps we’ll have an opportunity to talk again before the end of the conference to see where we stand.

LAKEWOOD: I certainly hope I’ve got some good news for you.

LASCARIS: Thank you very much.

This is Dimitri Lascaris for the Real News in Marrakech, Morocco.

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