Leading climate change experts have urged Donald Trump not to turn his back on the biggest global challenge facing mankind, arguing that he can make America great again – and the world safer – by standing up to global warming and embracing the trillion-dollar green tech revolution.
As new data showed that 2016 was the hottest year on record, scientists, government advisers and people closely involved with global climate talks said it would be self-defeating for Trump to pull the US out of the global Paris climate change deal as he has threatened.
Reversing action on climate change would mean the US gets left behind in the fast-growing, trillion-dollar market for clean energy, transport and infrastructure, experts told the Guardian, with one warning that this course of action would instead “make China great again”.
“The best way to make America great again is by owning the clean technologies of the future,” said Michael Liebreich, who has advised the UN and World Economic Forum on energy. “Not only will this create countless well-paid, fulfilling jobs for Americans, but it will also lock in the US’s geopolitical leadership for another generation.”
“I would say to [Trump], if you want to make China great again, you have to stay the course you have promised,” said John Schellnhuber, a climate expert who has advised Angela Merkel, the pope and the EU.
Lord Stern, a former UK government adviser, added: “If you want to make America great again, building modern, clean and smart infrastructure makes tremendous commercial and national sense. In the longer term, the low-carbon growth story is the only growth story on offer. There is no long-term, high-carbon growth story, because destruction of the environment would reverse growth.”
The Guardian interviewed more than a dozen leading global voices on climate change in the run-up to 24 hours of live, uninterrupted digital coverage, which runs from Thursday morning through to Trump’s inauguration on Friday.
Reporters have investigated countless examples of climate change utterly transforming lives and livelihoods, from Bangladesh to Egypt, west Africa to the south Pacific, even Europe and the United States itself, despite Trump’s repeated claims that it is all a hoax.
The 2016 data released on Wednesday showed that global temperatures have already soared more than 1C since pre-industrial times – halfway to the 2C considered a crucial ceiling under the Paris deal. UN officials said a redoubling of efforts was required, and hoped Trump would be part of that.
“It will be a long journey and only a sense of urgency will get us to the ‘well below 2C target’,” said Patricia Espinosa, head of the United Nations framework convention on climate change, adding she was looking forward to working with Trump “to make the world a better place for the people of the US and for peoples everywhere”.
Trump, who once called global warming “bullshit”, appears to have softened his stance a little since his election win, saying there is “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change. However, he also claimed climate action was making US companies uncompetitive.
Key global players have scrambled to shore up the Paris deal before Trump’s inauguration, with China and India both indicating they have no plans to renege on the pact if Trump tries to unravel it. Barack Obama sought to leave a stake in the ground with a $500m payment to a global green fund designed to underpin the Paris agreement.
Along with the US and Russia, the EU, China and India are the leading emitters of greenhouse gases – but they also sense the opportunity of stepping up if America falters.
China is already acknowledged to be leading the world in renewable energy and its president, Xi Jinping, firmly asserted his country’s commitment to climate action at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos and said the nation’s green investments were already “paying off”.