WWS Reacts: The Trump Administration’s Climate Change Report

Nov 28 2018
By B. Rose Kelly
Source Woodrow Wilson School

This week, the Trump administration is facing criticism over the Black Friday release of its climate change report, and President Trump’s resulting statements.

We collected some brief comments about the report from Michael Oppenheimer, Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs and the Princeton Environmental Institute, and Denise Mauzerall, professor of civil and environmental engineering and public and international affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the School of Engineering and Applied Science

Oppenheimer is director of the Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. He’s also a faculty associate of the Program in Atmospheric and Ocean SciencesPrinceton Environmental Institute, and the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies.

Mauzerall is a faculty associate of the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, the Department of Geosciences and the Princeton Environmental Institute. She's also on the executive committee of the Andlinger Center for Energy and Environment.

Q. What's your general reaction to the 1656-page climate report released by the Trump administration?

Michael Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer: The United States and most other countries are far behind in addressing this problem, both in terms of emissions reductions of the greenhouse gases that are needed to avoid dangerous levels of climate change and also a comprehensive, ongoing effort to adapt to expected impacts.

Mauzerall: The report correctly highlights the fact that the impacts of climate change will be large and pervasive. A rapid decarbonization of our energy system is required to reduce carbon emissions sufficiently to avoid catastrophic damages and additional work to mitigate emissions from the agricultural sector is also required. The fact that President Trump ignores the reality of climate change and dismisses the report’s findings is slowing efforts to reduce emissions both within the United States and around the world. Opportunities exist to develop and deploy new technologies and industries that will help address the problem. Dragging our feet now means both missed opportunities to take on a leadership position in new industries and a commitment to dire consequences in the future.


Q. Of the warnings listed, which is the most serious to you? What can be done about it?

Oppenheimer: Morbidity and mortality from extreme heat are the most immediate worry followed by the gradual and increasing drag unabated climate change would place on economic growth, such as from reduced labor productivity.

Mauzerall: The report highlights how the adverse impacts of climate change permeate most aspects of human health and wellbeing including our economy. It is difficult to choose a single one. Impacts will have adverse effects on our economy by way of rising damages due to increasing temperatures, sea level rise and extreme events; on public health through increased transmission of vector-borne diseases (e.g. Lyme disease, Zika, etc.), heat waves, fires, floods and increased pollen resulting in worsened allergies; on agriculture through extreme heat, droughts and fires, which reduce agricultural yields; and on ecosystems where many are projected to be irreversibly transformed, driving many species to extinction.

Q. The report suggests an integrated approach to dealing with the implications of climate change, which your research efforts seem to support. Why is this so important?

Oppenheimer: Climate change impacts occur across the spectrum of human life and livelihoods and preparing to build resilience against these impacts must do the same. Furthermore, greenhouse gas emissions cut across all human activity, from industry to agriculture to transport so solutions must be implemented across the board. If this is done poorly, the economy will suffer. If it’s done carefully and with an eye toward integrated approaches like emissions fees or comprehensive caps with emission trading, or equivalent levels of regulation, or a coordinated mixture of these, then the needed industrial transformation can occur with minimal disruption.

Mauzerall: An integrated approach to dealing with climate change is necessary. Adaptation to the disruptions climate change will bring is necessary to avoid enormous human and economic costs. However, the world cannot adapt to unfettered changes to the global climate – rapid dramatic reduction of emissions is absolutely crucial. As governments and other entities recognize this need, there will be great opportunities for innovation and green jobs. People will be able to do well by doing good. These changes, of course, would be greatly accelerated and enhanced with far-sighted government policies.

Q. This report is mandated by Congress to come out every four years. How has this report helped inform past administrations? Do you think it will inform this one?

Oppenheimer: I seriously doubt the Trump administration will pay any attention whatsoever to this, unless the courts force it to do so. I am sure this report will be exhibit A in the coming war over Trump’s plan to destroy greenhouse gas regulation.

Mauzerall: The Obama administration took climate change seriously and implemented a variety of policies that put the United States on a path to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by over 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. President Trump is in the process of rolling back all of these regulations and encouraging the U.S. and the world to use more coal. He has indicated that he does not believe the report and dismisses the existence of human caused climate change entirely.