Why Trump's Latest Executive Order Won't Stop The Fight For Global Climate Change

As The White House aims to slash regulations, global leaders continue to reduce carbon emissions.

Despite President Donald Trump's plan to undo climate change regulations here in the United States, the global pact known as the Paris Climate Agreement is looking stronger than ever.

On Tuesday, Trump signed a sweeping executive order that aims to reduce the Environmental Protection Agency's role in enforcing climate change regulations. Noticeably absent was any language around the Paris Climate Agreement, which Trump has promised to "cancel" despite the fact it's bringing on more countries every week.

Nathaniel Keohane, vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund and a former advisor to President Barack Obama, says the Paris Climate Agreement has too much momentum to be stopped now. 

"American leadership was critical for getting Paris Climate Agreement, it wouldn't have happened without that American leadership," Keohane said. "But now that it is in place, the rest of the world is committed to this low-carbon path regardless of what Washington does."

Keohane might have a point: just last week, the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) noted that 17 new countries have signed onto the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017 alone. The 137 countries now signed onto the agreement account for 82 percent of the world's emissions.

"Climate action is going forward, the Paris Agreement is going forward," Keohane said. "The question is whether the U.S. is going to lead or whether the U.S. is going to step away from that leadership role and cede it to China or Europe and others." 

Still, for environmentalists, Trump's latest actions are concerning. President Obama's Clean Power Plan — which will be under review thanks to this executive order — was America's way of showing the world it was serious about tackling climate change. Despite being tied up in courts since 2014, the plan laid out a clear path to reducing carbon dioxide emissions and hit the United States' benchmarks in the Paris Climate Agreement. 

The White House is selling Tuesday's executive order as a move to prioritize job creation and the economy over regulations meant to curb climate change or carbon emissions. 

"The previous administration devalued workers by their policies," a White House official told CNN. "We are saying we can do both. We can protect the environment and provide people with work." 

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Now that the order is signed, a review of the Clean Power Plan will commence. The order also ends the moratorium on coal mining on federal lands and asks agencies to identify any regulations that impede on America's quest for energy independence. 

"This executive order is not going to undermine global climate action, but it will undermine American interests by damaging our standing in the world and by dampening the jobs and investment that come by leadership in the clean energy economy," Keohane said.

For the Trump administration, who is hoping to make progress on their promises to deregulate America, there is still a long way to go. Any scrapping of the Clean Power Plan would require them to testify in court, give public comment, and explain the agency's reversal (seven environmental advocacy groups and 18 state attorney generals have testified in support of the Clean Power Plan). 

The entire process could take up to a year. Along with the court battle, Trump's administration will have to reckon with the reality that clean energy is already cheaper than many fossil fuels and the costs are only going down.  

"It's important to remember that states and cities and businesses around the country are continuing to move forward on climate action regardless of what Washington is going to do," Keohane said. "You can't take that away with a stroke of a pen, those rules are in place and it will take a lot of work to turn them down. we will be defending them tooth and nail." 

Cover photo: jctabb / Shutterstock

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