By Kate Curry
While the United States ponders the domestic implications of Donald Trump’s election victory, the rest of the world is anxious about the global impact of a Trump presidency.
A fault line between these two worlds runs through West Virginia, my home state.
One of the most immediate concerns for other countries is the environment. Will Trump uphold his campaign promise to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement, which aims to rein in global warming?
The United Nations has been concerned about climate change for almost a quarter of a century. In 1992, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) established the first global treaty addressing the need to combat rising global temperatures.
That treaty later produced a yearly conference — the Conference of the Parties, or COP — aimed at establishing global standards for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In December 2015, representatives of 197 countries reached a historic agreement at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris.
Trump has adopted contradictory positions on climate change.
The Paris Agreement requires each participating country to submit an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, a document that sets out how it will cut back carbon emissions. The Agreement came into effect last month after 55 parties, accounting for 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, ratified it.
The goal of the Agreement is to keep the rise in average global temperatures, compared with pre-industrial levels, well below two degrees Celsius. Many scientists believe that if temperatures increase by that much, damage to the environment will be irreversible.
To date, 114 of the 197 parties have ratified the agreement. But progress on reducing global warming now face a serious threat as Trump’s inauguration date of January 20 approaches.
In recent years, Trump has made contradictory statements about climate change. As early as November 2012, he tweeted that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
Last March, he told The Washington Post newspaper he was “not a great believer in man-made climate change.” However, on November 22, after winning the presidential election, he told The New York Times newspaper that he now has an “open mind” on the subject.
Without U.S. support, the Paris Agreement will crumble.
While the world wonders whether the United States will remain a party to the Paris Agreement, there can be no doubt about the negative consequences it if pulls out.
Diplomatically, it would be a major blow to the United States’ reputation; the Agreement has wide global approval.
Economically, international trade could suffer: former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed that the European Union impose a carbon tax on the United States if it quits the accord.
Further, the Paris Agreement would crumble without U.S. support. The United States emits approximately 16 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Without U.S. cutbacks, the Paris Agreement simply cannot meet its goals by 2025.
Moreover, an American withdrawal would likely have a domino effect and could prompt other major greenhouse gas emitting nations, even China, to leave the Agreement.
West Virginian coal miners believe Trump understands them.
Although the environmental concerns are undeniable, as a native West Virginian I understand that attaining the goal of a “greener” world is not as clear-cut as it seems.
I have seen the devastating reality when coal mines shut down. Without their mining jobs, good, kind, salt-of-the-earth people plummet into poverty and are forced to live in the harshest of conditions, with little or no hope of a better life.
In 1940, West Virginia employed more than 130,000 people in the coal mining industry. Since then, the number has declined by nearly 90 percent due to the increased use of natural gas and stronger environmental regulations on coal.
Having seen people suffer unintended consequences of the climate movement, I can sympathize with some of those who voted for Donald Trump. Many were voting against what they perceive as job-killing regulations adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Last May, Trump held a rally in the capital city of Charleston, West Virginia, sporting a coal miner’s hardhat.
Cheers from the crowd resonated throughout the arena as he declared, “We’re going to put the miners back to work. We are going to get those mines open.” Later that same night, Trump called the environmental regulations “ridiculous” and “nonsense.”
His rhetoric ignited hope in the hearts of coal-mining West Virginians who felt that finally a candidate understood their struggles.
Coal mining is the only source of employment in West Virginia.
A man who has lost his job in the coal mines has little room to worry about the environment when he is struggling to feed his family.
The hard reality is, a West Virginia coal miner either works in the mines or he doesn’t work. There are precious few other jobs, if any, in these remote communities.
To these hard-working people, the Climate Change movement is little more than a “War on Coal”: a war on their livelihood and probably their only chance to provide a better life for their children.
For now, the world sits on edge. Legally, Trump cannot pull out of the Paris Agreement for at least the next four years due to a mandatory waiting period.
He could, however, bypass this waiting period by withdrawing from the UNFCCC. With this option, the United States could quit the contract in one year.
Whatever Trump’s decision, the consequences will radiate throughout the United States and beyond.
(The views are the authors’.)
Kate Curry is from Charleston, West Virginia, and is currently spending the penultimate year of high school studying in Rennes, France, with the School Year Abroad program. She is interested in travel, writing, international relations and working with children. She plans to pursue a career with UNICEF.