The new US president isn’t known for his commitment to tackling climate change, yet if he can see the economic benefit for his country he might become a convert

Nick Cullen

We start 2017 with the environmental community in paroxysms of despair over the election of Donald Trump, who becomes US president today, and his view on climate change. It is fair to say that Trump won the election on the back of an “America first” campaign theme. He offered a grand promise to “re-shore” jobs for Americans, particularly from their near neighbours Mexico and also from China.

It was not on a promise to tackle climate change.

The rapid ratification of the Paris Conference Agreement on Climate Change by 55% of all nations representing 55% of all emissions was – at least in part – a result of the fear that the new president might not sign on behalf of the USA. At best, president Trump is ambivalent about mankind’s contribution to climate change. When he is quoted talking about wind generation, he talks not in terms of energy production, but in terms of its ability to operate without subsidy.

Yet perhaps we should accept that the USA will always do things their way.

At best, president Trump is ambivalent about mankind’s contribution to climate change

The US is a technological powerhouse. The last decade has seen a jobs boom on the back of American technological leadership in “fracking”. Jobs have been created and “reshored” in both the energy sector and the downstream petrochemical sector, where the cost of energy and feedstock really matters.

Since 2008, it is claimed that the US shale oil and gas boom has been responsible for 25% of all new jobs. It has resurrected the US manufacturing sector and made the United States energy independent. This has improved not only the lives of millions of people, but also the country’s balance of payments. The greater use of natural gas as a fuel has in turn displaced coal and, as a result, has had a beneficial impact upon US carbon emissions, reducing them back to 1994 levels.

What’s not to like? An environmental objective achieved with the social benefit of local jobs, together with enormous economic advantages.

This sounds a bit like a definition of sustainable development.

The only snag being that it is not sustainable: the gas and oil will run out. However, perhaps it may last long enough to get the US to the next technological advancement that it is so good at spotting and more importantly, exploiting.

I think it is a fair guess to suggest that president Trump will look at climate change mitigation not in terms of achieving carbon reductions for the greater good, but in terms of economic and social sustainability. He might not frame it in such a way though.

Nick Cullen is a partner at Hoare Lea