Defying poll predictions, real estate mogul Donald Trump handily won the United States presidential election on Tuesday, a result with potentially profound implications for the country’s clean energy policies, climate diplomacy, and for neighbouring Canada’s own climate change strategy.
The issue of climate change barely featured amongst the hot-button issues in the election campaign, but Trump’s track record speaks volumes. In November, 2012, Trump famously tweeted that global warming was an invention of Beijing for the purpose of undermining American industry, and he has since promised to cut Environmental Protection Agency funding or do away with it entirely, end all federal spending on clean energy, scrap the Obama administration’s flagship climate policy—the Clean Power Plan, and pull out of, or at least renegotiate, the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power producers by 32 percent over the next 13 years, has helped push states and power companies in the US northeast in particular to seek agreements for access to Quebec, Manitoba, and Newfoundland hydroelectricity in order to avoid fines. Whether such moves will still go ahead if the plan is scrapped is unknown. State-level clean energy legislation however is also driving such moves, and this will not be affected by the Trump victory.
Canadian federal-provincial climate plans now face a bumpy playing field. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has maintained the line set by their conservative predecessor that Canada’s climate ambition cannot exceed that of the US, lest carbon-intensive industries lose competitiveness. While pressure has been increasing on Trudeau to up his climate ambition, his freedom to do so may be reduced if US emissions start climbing again.
One ray of light for Trudeau, but not the climate, is that Trump has said he would allow the Keystone XL pipeline to go forward, a development rejected by President Obama. If the president-elect follows through on this commitment, Alberta’s need for domestic pipeline access to BC waters or the east coast will lessen, as provincial oil could then reach Texan tidewater instead. TransCanada, the company behind the proposed pipeline said on Wednesday that it was “fully committed” to the project and looking to engage with the new administration.
Other worries include stalling on the ‘NAFTA for climate’ pact, a trilateral agreement signed between the US, Canada and Mexico in February that opened the door to a comprehensive continental treaty on climate change between the three countries, particularly with respect to deeper electricity grid integration.
Ironically, however, the US president-elect’s repeated commitment to rip up the actual NAFTA, and other trade agreements, may make it easier for countries such as Canada to introduce what are called ‘border carbon adjustments’, in essence border taxes that aim to prevent carbon leakage, as these would no longer be viewed as barriers to trade.
Energy economist Mark Jaccard helped design BC’s carbon tax, and he still supports it. But he questions just how politically viable a stringent tax—at the level needed to meet climate targets—can really be. So he also continues to explore how other policies that the public find more acceptable could work.