Science Policy & Funding News

Climate Efforts Will Continue Despite Rhetoric, Officials Say

Secretary of the Interior says that citizens can help hold the Trump administration accountable for what they want to see happen in terms of action on climate change.


President-elect Donald Trump, who has called climate change “a hoax,” may find it difficult to slow down the momentum for action in dealing with climate change domestically and internationally, according to two senior members of the Obama administration.

For the past 8 years, the administration has worked “to try to create a domestic regulatory architecture that takes into account climate, [and] that is not something that is just going to go away,” according to Brian Deese, senior adviser to the president. Deese, whose duties include overseeing climate, conservation, and energy policy, appeared with Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell at a 29 November forum at the Institute of Politics and Public Service at Georgetown University’s McCourt School in Washington, D. C., that was billed as an exit interview.

The regulatory architecture “is solid in lots of ways,” said Deese, citing the White House Climate Action Plan, its Clean Power Plan (CPP) to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, and administration efforts to improve fuel economy standards, among other measures. He added that market dynamics also have shifted with the growth of lower-cost renewable energy and the natural gas boom and that many businesses and other key stakeholders support efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.

“That’s an important piece of context to have as you think about and you digest [Trump’s] rhetoric and as we see where the rhetoric ends up in terms of concrete action.”

Trump, who has said that climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese, recently appeared to change his mind by telling the New York Times last month that he has “an open mind” about climate change. However, Trump’s likely chief of staff Reince Priebus later told Fox News that Trump’s default position about climate change is that “most of it is a bunch of bunk.” Also, Trump said in September that he would scrap the CPP.

Keeping the New Administration Accountable

Jewell, who will be speaking at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting in San Francisco on 14 December, said that the administration’s regulatory reforms related to environmental protection took years to work their way through the bureaucratic process. “That can’t be undone easily,” she said, adding, “We don’t think about these decisions [about climate change] in the here and now. We are thinking about it generations forward: What are the right decisions that we can make today that can create a brighter future?”

(An opinion piece in Eos by Richard Rood of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, also discusses taking the long view on environmental issues during the incoming administration.)

Jewell offered advice to the public and to the incoming administration. “You are citizens and your voices are important,” she said at the forum. “It is going to be your job as it will be my job and Brian’s to hold this [Trump] administration accountable for what we want to see happen.”

With Republicans soon to control the White House and both chambers of Congress, Jewell urged them to review current fossil fuel tax credit incentives to better align with what she said are the nation’s overall economic interests. With a significant number of jobs and economic opportunity in renewable energy, “we have to take a hard look at what kind of certainty those companies need in order to make those investments,” she said. “It’s not just extractive industries jobs that help [the economy].”

International Momentum

On the international front, Deese said that the global political consensus on climate change “has shifted in a fundamental and irreversible way” with the Paris climate agreement, which came into force in November, continuing to be the “global driver of climate change action.” At this year’s climate conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, Deese said that 196 countries signed a declaration saying that the momentum behind efforts to fight climate change “is irreversible.”

Deese said that climate change policy has been a high priority for the Obama administration and that a key question for the next U.S. administration is “how do we best position our country so that our businesses [and] our consumers can benefit from these irreversible dynamics?” Deese also posed another question, related to the Paris agreement: “Is the United States going to be at the table to make sure that we are holding other countries accountable [to their national climate commitments] and that our businesses [and] our industries otherwise are protected against negative things that could come our way as well?”

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2016), Climate efforts will continue despite rhetoric, officials say, Eos, 97, Published on 02 December 2016.
© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0