A dry riverbed in Kruger National Park, South Africa. (Credit: Rixie/Bigstock)
A dry riverbed in Kruger National Park, South Africa. (Credit: Rixie/Bigstock) (via: bit.ly)

During his campaign, Trump described climate change as a “hoax” devised by China to secure trade advantages, and threatened to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, abandon Barack Obama’s climate change policy, and cut funding for climate science research.

After Trump took office, the Obama White House webpage on climate change immediately disappeared and was replaced by An America First Energy Plan, which doesn’t refer to global warming at all and states that eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies like Obama’s Climate Action Plan is a priority.

The Paris Agreement and the Trump Administration

Since the Paris Agreement (PA) came into force on 4 November 2016, the US government has been legally bound by it, only being able to withdraw by applying Article 28 of the PA no sooner than four years after ratification. Under the PA, the US committed itself to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 to 26-28% below 2005 levels.

However, despite the statements during the campaign, the Trump administration’s stance towards the PA is not yet clear. The Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson (former CEO of ExxonMobil), who will be responsible for PA negotiations, has noted, “it’s important that the US maintains its seat at the table”. According to the Washington Post, Tillerson does not deny climate change but has framed it as “manageable” and as an “engineering problem”.

The financial impact of a possible US withdrawal from PA

Within the framework of the PA, developed countries have committed to mobilising US$100 billion a year in climate finance by 2025. Sources contributing to the annual target include bilateral funding from government to government, multilateral development finance, export credits, and funds for the UN Green Climate Fund.

It remains unclear whether the US will stick to its commitments, with the Green Climate Fund being a test case. The US had vowed to commit US$3 billion to this fund in 2016, of which US$1 billion has already been transferred by the Obama administration. However, with Donald Trump as the new president, it appears unlikely that the US will make good on the remaining US$2 billion.

Many observers also agree that there is a high risk that the new administration will curtail overall foreign aid provision. Given the current US status as the biggest donor of foreign aid worldwide (US$30 billion in 2015), US cuts on funding could have adverse effects on the fight against climate change, especially in the countries of the Global South.

The question of leadership

What is seen by many as even more critical for addressing climate change is the question of leadership. There is likely to be a vacuum when the US reduces its international efforts to slow climate change down. With Germany as a leading partner, the EU and – potentially – China are regarded as more than capable of taking over leadership. The next G20 meeting, hosted in Hamburg, could provide Germany and its allies with the opportunity to communicate their readiness as reliable leaders by stepping forward with ambitious goals to curb climate change.

US CO2 emissions

US domestic policy is a crucial factor in estimations of the global impact of Trump’s new policies and the world needs a strong commitment from the US to reduce its own CO2 emissions.

The US is currently the world’s second biggest emitter (only overtaken by China in 2007) , responsible for 16% of worldwide CO2 and accounting for 27% of total emissions over the past 150 years . If Donald Trump goes ahead with his plans to eliminate the ambitious targets for cutting carbon pollution set in the Obama Climate Action Plan, without replacing it with a similarly committed new plan, this is likely to have a detrimental effect on the level of CO2 emissions within the US, and consequently on global climate change targets.  This would definitely aggravate climate change-related problems across the world, especially in Africa.

Impact on African countries

As a continent, Africa only accounts for 3.8% of global CO2 emissions. Nevertheless, African countries – especially sub-Saharan Africa – will bear the main burden of global warming as they are hit particularly hard by its consequences. When comparing Africa with top emitters like China, the United States, and the European Union, accounting for 23%, 19%, and 13% of global emissions respectively, it is clear where the predominant responsibility for global warming lies.

It is possible that cuts to US aid could have negative impacts on climate change related challenges, although budgetary targets from two example countries place this suggestion in proper perspective. In the case of Malawi, one of the countries hit worst by global warming, the government approved a five-year plan to fight climate change worth around US$1 billion in 2014. In 2015, US aid amounted to US$145 million, of which US$ 5 million – 2.5% of Malawi’s annual climate change budget – was dedicated to environmental projects. This number appears to be relatively small in relation to the overall yearly budget for combating climate change.

In Ethiopia, the government approved a US$12.57 billion budget for the 2016 fiscal year, which means US aid contributions (US$580 million) represent 4,8% of the state budget. In 2015, US aid dedicated to environmental issues in Ethiopia was US$31 million, so amounted to 0.25% of the state budget, which is a rather small sum.

Overall, given the fact that US aid makes up a relatively small proportion of individual country budgets (although, of course, every dollar not spent on climate change is a missing dollar), in the cases of Malawi and Ethiopia the negative effects of a decrease in US aid could be regarded as moderate.

In fact, what could affect African countries more negatively is the withdrawal of the US from its global commitments, and its associated relinquishing of climate change leadership. Global climate agreements and the countries inmost need of them would be at risk together. Many sub-Saharan countries are vulnerable to climate change and they would suffer severely from the termination of climate agreements.

The bigger picture

In the long run, the severity of multiple risks posed to African countries is to a considerable degree determined by climate change creating extreme weather conditions like droughts and floods and a scarcity of resources (e.g., water) and lead to internal migration, threatening the livelihood of the 70% of Africans who are heavily dependent on low-yielding, rain-fed agriculture. Moreover, increased migration both within the region, and to Europe, would put further pressure on receiving countries. Conflict resulting from the scarcity of resources could increase, further destabilising African countries, and thus running counter to European security interests.

In these challenging circumstances, all eyes are now on the next G20 meeting, taking place in Hamburg from 7-8 July this year. Hopefully we will see one or more countries put their foot down in order to decisively gather partners and strengthen collective efforts to fight climate change.

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Klemens Witte

Research Associate, DOC Research Institute, DE

Klemens Witte, Research Associate at the DOC, is specifically interested in economic questions, international relations, and policy-making. He holds a Masters in Political Science and Intercultural Communication (Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg), a second Masters in Baltic Sea Studies (Södertörns University College/Stockholm), and a postgraduate LL.M. in International Economic Law (Southwest-University for Political Science and Law/Chongqing and Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg). Klemens Witte has gained international experience in universities in Kazan, Moscow, Kaliningrad, Minsk, and Beijing. He has further work experience within the fields of internationalization and education as a desk officer with Swedish government ministries and as a lecturer from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He speaks German, English, Swedish, Russian, and Chinese.