Trump Presidency Could Hike US Emissions by 4bn Tonnes

As Biden and Trump emerge victorious from Super Tuesday, a report compares the US’ chances of achieving net zero under each of them.

New analysis from UK-based science and climate change policy website Carbon Brief has estimated that another Donald Trump presidency could mean the US will generate a further four billion tonnes in carbon emissions by 2030. 

The report was published ahead of the US presidential elections that will occur in November this year, and followed the Super Tuesday voting session that saw incumbent president Joe Biden lead the polls alongside Trump, resulting in Republican candidate Nikki Hayley dropping from the race. 

The findings were based on an aggregation of modelling by various US research groups, gauging what a second Trump term could mean with regards to the climate transition when compared with Joe Biden’s plans if he remained in the White House.

“This extra four billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030 would cause global climate damages worth more than US$900 billion based on the latest US government valuations, [and] is equivalent to the combined annual emissions of the EU and Japan, or [to that] of the world’s 140 lowest-emitting countries,” said Dr Simon Evans, Senior Policy Editor at Carbon Brief and report co-author. “Put another way, the extra [emissions] from a second Trump term would negate – twice over – all of the savings from deploying wind, solar and other clean technologies around the world over the past five years.” 

If Trump secured a second term, the US would also very likely miss its climate pledge by a wide margin, the report warned, with carbon emissions only falling to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030. The US’s current target under the Paris Agreement is to achieve a 50-52% emissions reduction by 2030. 

Flipping the Script

Among other potential measures, Trump has already pledged if he was elected to reverse the Inflation Reduction Act – a landmark legislation passed by Biden’s administration to accelerate the US’s green transition, introducing subsidies for the purchase of electric vehicles and for the manufacturing of clean-tech products. Experts say the act has already started to bear fruit. 

“In the ‘Biden’ scenario…all federal climate policies currently in place or in the process of being finalised are assumed to continue,” the report read. “The administration’s current climate policies are expected to cut US emissions significantly, bringing the country close to meeting its 2030 [pledge]. Nevertheless, a gap remains between projected emissions and those needed to meet the 2030 and 2050 targets.” 

The report authors specified that the findings were subject to uncertainty around economic growth, fuel and technology prices, market response to incentives, and to the extent to which Trump would be able to roll back Biden’s policies. 

“The analysis might overstate the impact Trump could have on US emissions if some of Biden’s policies prove hard to unpick – or if subnational climate action accelerates,” said Dr Verner Viisainen, Data Scientist at Carbon Brief and report co-author. “Equally, it might understate Trump’s impact.”

For example, Trump’s pledge to “drill, baby, drill” was not included within the analysis and would likely raise US and global emissions further through the increased extraction and burning of oil, gas and coal, he added. 

The study also discounted the potential for Biden to add new climate policies if he won a second term, or the risk that some of his existing ones may be weakened, delayed, or hit by legal challenges. 

Regardless of the precise impact, if Trump is elected to the White House once more and successfully dismantles Biden’s climate legacy, any hopes of keeping global average temperatures below 1.5°C would likely be broken. 

“Given the scale of US emissions and its influence on the world, this makes the election crucial to hopes of limiting global warming to 1.5°C,” the authors wrote. “There is also uncertainty around the impact of Biden’s policies, the response of households, business and industry to those measures, and the rate of economic growth – as well as over future prices for fossil fuels and low-carbon technologies.” 

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