As I was riding my bike to work this morning, I had the strange impression that everyone around, including the city itself, was holding its breath, trying to figure out "ok, what now?"
Even before I arrived at work, I had spoken to some colleagues in ministerial offices in Quebec and Ottawa. Some of these conversations did nothing to make me feel better, while others managed to help me see some rays of light in these rather surprising American election results.
It is obvious that the president-elect (it hurts just to say it), Donald Trump won't be able to fulfil all of his promises, since so many had no substance to them.
Beyond this "hangover" feeling, which is still sitting with me, I would like to offer a cold analysis of what we can expect on the environmental front under a presidency and a Congress that is now entirely Republican.
Under the category: "it's going to hurt"
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump denied the existence of climate change, arguing that it was a ploy by the Chinese to undermine the U.S. economy. That is why I believe that one of the things he will do rapidly is announce that the U.S. will pull out of the Paris climate Agreement. However, many years will pass before that can happen due to the rules pertaining to that agreement. Furthermore, as the Paris Agreement has already entered into force, the U.S. withdrawal will have no direct impacts.
As well, China’s top climate change negotiator recently encouraged Mr. Trump, if he should be elected, to work together with the other countries to fight climate change rather than engage in isolationism on this question, adding that economic and social progress in the U.S. will also be affected (1).
A Trump administration will also soon reduce pollution requirements for highly polluting industries like coal, and will likely go ahead with Keystone XL project (project that President Obama rejected).
Under the category: "the light at the end of the tunnel"
Might Donald Trump, as he pledged to do during the election campaign, help the coal industry rise from its ashes? (excuse the pun), and be born again? I doubt it, mainly for economic reasons.
As shown in the graphic, below, renewables are outperforming fossil fuels in terms of annual investments in electricity production:
You will also notice that coal does not appear even on the radar screen for power generation in the US. The market value of coal companies has melted like snow, losing 92% of its value from more than $60 billion in 2011 to $4 billion in 2016 (2).
China has closed 1,000 (yes, you read that right) coal mines over the course of the past few years (3) and will this year invest more in renewables than in coal.
On the question of Keystone XL, while a presidential permit is certainly a necessary condition for the project’s execution, it is not a sufficient condition, because the pipeline must also obtain approval from several US states where there is strong opposition to this project.
A lesson to be learned
Like many among you, I followed the American election closely for months, and if I retain one thing from yesterday’s election, it is that an impressive number of people voted for Trump even though 60% of them believe that he is not ready to be president. Why did they do this? In many cases, it is because they feel they have been forgotten by the elite in recent years. I am thinking particularly of its coal workers, or the tens of thousands who lost their jobs in the oil sector.
We now know that the energy transition is becoming more and more a reality, and so I am delighted to see the coal companies fall one after the other, just like with oil companies, but we absolutely have to think about those who will bear the costs of this transition and to ensure that it is done with them, and not on their backs.
Does Donald Trump's election represent a step back in the Climate and Environmental scene? Yes of course! We will have to roll up our sleeves and work harder.
But you know what? This is not the first time that we’ve seen this movie, or played in this film. Remember George W. Bush! He specifically promised to build one coal plant per week during his first term. However, during his eight years in the White House, not only did he not manage to build a single one, but 200 were closed under his reign.