Trump presidency could upend global climate change efforts, SUNY-ESF panel says

Kali Bowden | Staff Photographer

Professors from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry participated in a panel discussion about the Paris Climate Agreement and the effects the election of Donald Trump could have on it.

The results of Tuesday’s election have raised questions regarding how United States policies will have an impact on the fight against climate change.

A discussion panel on the progress of the United Nations Paris Agreement on climate change was held Friday by the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. Panelists discussed what would change if President-elect Donald Trump decides to leave the agreement or does not comply with it.

The agreement, created at the December 2015 Paris climate conference, went into effect on Nov. 4. So far 109 of the 197 countries, including the U.S., have ratified it according to the United Nations. The overall goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep global temperature increase below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels this century.

The Paris Agreement is different from past efforts: Instead of having set requirements that apply to all countries, each country can create their own set of goals through what the U.N. calls “nationally determined contributions.”

The U.S. has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025 while India promised to use non-fossil fuel sources for 40 percent of its electricity by 2030. Each country is also responsible for reporting their emissions and how well they have implemented their plan.

“The election, to be sure, was a very big setback,” said Peter Wilcoxen, professor and director of the Center for Environmental Policy and Administration at Syracuse University. “It will certainly slow down the goals of the agreement but the process and the ideas behind it will endure because of the policy design.”

Wilcoxen said with national environmental policies threatened, the action is moved back to state governments and local communities.

Richard Smardon, a professor emeritus and former chair of the environmental studies department at SUNY-ESF, also stressed that idea.

“My feeling has always been that how you do stuff locally is how you make it work,” Smardon said. “Think global, act local.”

Smardon specializes in energy sustainability and planning. He teaches a class called Environmental and Energy Auditing, a hands-on class where students look at the emissions in the city of Syracuse and uses the data to create real local climate action plans.

In the class, they follow the “5 Milestones for Climate Mitigation” set by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. The steps include basic carbon footprinting, finding an emissions reduction target, developing a local climate action plan, implementing the plan and then monitoring the results.

“It’s like Paris on a microlevel,” Smardon said.

He is also one of the authors of a new book, “The Renewable Energy Landscape: Preserving Scenic Values in our Sustainable Future,” which discusses how renewable energy resources like wind or solar farms create problems because they aren’t always pleasing to look at.

While other countries like Denmark or Canada are already using wind power at a high level, Americans are hesitant for several reasons: People don’t trust large-scale developers, they’re worried about habitat destruction or they don’t like how wind farms look. Smardon said people feel like they don’t have a voice in the matter.

“If you can involve people early on in the process and work through the whole thing, then in many cases people are much more accepting,” Smardon said.


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