After billionaire tycoon Donald J. Trump was elected president of the United States, experts and policy makers in the Arctic began speculating about the implications of his upcoming presidency for the Arctic, as Mr. Trump did not say very much about the Arctic during his campaign.
International cooperation in the Arctic
It is widely known that Mr. Trump called the concept of global warming a "hoax" invented by the Chinese "in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive" positioning himself as a climate change denier. This is why some experts believe that once President Obama leaves office, "the world can likely say goodbye to bilateral efforts between the U.S. and other nations on climate change such as the U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change or the U.S.-Canada Joint Statement on Climate, Energy, and Arctic Leadership".
Trump has promised to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement which just went into force recently. The analysts say that it may take as long as three years to carry out; however, in the meantime, because the agreement is non-binding, there will be no one to enforce compliance from the U.S., which now produces 13% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Another important aspect to remember is money: The United States had promised $800 million a year to help finance climate adaptation for the least developed nations, and that money is unlikely to be delivered during a Trump presidency, experts think. The U.S. could also simply withdraw from the UN 1992 climate convention - which would only take a year, the experts say. Trump has said he would like to scrap the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and dump Obama’s Climate Action Plan to focus on “real environmental challenges, not the phony ones we’ve been looking at.”
“Science cannot expect any positive climate action from him. The world has now to move forward without the U.S. on the road toward climate-risk mitigation and clean-technology innovation,” according to Hans Joachim Schellnhuber from Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. However, not all experts think that Trump´s presidency will end international cooperation in this field. David M. Slayton from the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California said, “Let’s remember, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was developed under a Republican administration. I believe we will continue to see a strong focus on environmental protection efforts in the U.S., I believe the focus on environmental stewardship and ‘smart’ resource development will continue.”
However in an interview with the New York Times, Trump stated that he has "an open mind" towards the issue of climate change and that "there is some connectivity" between human activity and the planet's climate. What exactly he means by that statement will become evident only once his administration comes into office on 20 January 2017.
When Trump eventually is sworn in at the end of January, there will be only four months left in the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, which the country has led under a motto of “One Arctic: Shared Opportunities, Challenges, and Responsibilities”. Trump’s “America First” agenda of neo-isolationism, however promises to roll back the country’s commitments to what are perceived as unnecessary overseas entanglements, from South Korea to Europe, according to Mia Bennett, Cryopolitics Founder and Author. On the other hand, judging by Trump's remarks about Russia, U.S. relations with Russia may improve, which may enhance cooperation between the two countries in the Arctic.
Arctic natural resources
Trump would likely look to remove initiatives designed to cut carbon emissions, the experts predict. This has been outlined in Trump’s energy plan where “draconian climate rules” are repealed and the US escalates its production of coal, oil and natural gas. “Under my administration,” Trump said, “we’ll accomplish complete American energy independence. Complete. Imagine a world in which our foes, and the oil cartels, can no longer use energy as a weapon. It will happen. We’re going to win.”
In 2015, the Obama Administration canceled the auctions for drilling rights in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas for two years. Marc Lanteigne from Norwegian Institute of International Affairs predicts that there is a strong possibility that the moratorium on Alaskan oil drilling announced in October last year will be overturned, "which may please some in the state, but worry environmentalists.”
Indeed, some highest officials in Alaska are looking forward to Trump's Presidency: Tara Sweeney, executive vice-president for external affairs at the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., the North Slope Native corporation, called Obama a "gracious president" who strengthened tribal relations. However, Sweeney said she's excited Trump's pro-development agenda will translate into a broad range of economic opportunities, including potentially more oil and gas development in the Arctic Ocean.
"Federal permitting has been killing us," said John Hendrix, Governor Bill Walker's oil and gas adviser. "We need to make Mr. Trump aware of the challenges Alaska has been having and let him know that oil and gas is the main engine keeping our schools open and paying for services."
Additionally, Trump has vowed to spend “at least double” the $275 billion Hillary Clinton had proposed to spend on infrastructure over the next five years on projects such as roads, bridges, and ports. Getting that road to King Cove (the road from the town to the nearest all-weather airport, through a Izembek National Wildlife Refuge) is also a potential change that caught the imagination of Alaska Republicans.
President Obama has used his last months in office to remove the part of the Arctic Ocean in US territorry from any oil or gas leasing for the next five years, making a last-ditch effort to delay any new oil and gas development in the region for as long as possible. The move angered Alaskan officials, as the state's population relies heavily on oil and gas production as a revenue stream and a source of jobs for its residents. Trump is expected to undo this action once he comes into office. But his administration may face difficulties in doing so, as it would have to start the regulatory framework over from scratch - a process that is likely to take years.
Arctic security is also set for some changes. Trump has said he’d move ahead with the ballistic missile defense system, a plan batted around since the early 2000s, when Inuit in Canada and Greenland reacted to the U.S. plan for anti-ballistic missile radar and communication systems in several places across the Arctic, including the U.S. Air Force base in Thule, Greenland.
The idea was to defend the U.S. against nuclear missile attacks launched from ships or land, as well as lasers fired from modified aircraft from so-called “rogue” states such as North Korea and Iraq.
“Under a Trump Administration, the United States will build a comprehensive ballistic missile defense system with a heavy emphasis on space-based early warning and missile tracking technologies,” Alexander Gray, senior defence advisor to Trump, said in a October memorandum to the Trump Campaign.
What to expect in reality?
Some may think that Trump's presidency may destroy the progress in environmental policy in the US and scrap the Obama Administration’s plans to combat climate change. But the future of global climate policy is still unpredictable for several reasons.
First, the international community may restrain Trump. China and other countries have warned Trump to not abandon America’s commitments on climate change.
Second, opposition in the Congress may also hold him back. Robert Stavins, director of the Environmental Economics Program at Harvard University, said that even with full GOP control of Congress, Trump is unlikely to amend federal laws which authorize climate policies such as the Clean Power Plan because Democrats, who largely favor climate policy, will be able to filibuster any bill aiming to do so
Third, it seems that nobody knows for sure what the new climate change policy will be - even Trump himself. During an interview broadcast on 60 Minutes, he moved to back away from some of his most hardline positions on migration and health-care reform (while still vowing to deport millions of people). Also, the statement calling for a ban on Muslims was removed from his website after the elections. All of which left experts guessing as to how his views on climate policy may evolve.
The most important thing is that the protesters who had anticipated presenting a “presidential to-do list” on climate change hastily turned it into a “people’s to-do list” and this may enhance the progress in dealing with environmental issues. According to the expert Scott Stephenson, who attended the United Nations COP 22 conference in Marrakech, Morocco, this kind of attitude is healthy regardless of whether or not Clinton or Trump had been elected. Globe-spanning environmental issues must be tackled by the world’s people coming together.