1 December 2017

Good news about climate change, from unexpected quarters

By Dan Drollette Jr

In a pair of dramatic reversals over the past few days, the Trump administration now appears to have changed its positions on a key pair of earlier, Obama-era environmental efforts—a laudable change of events, albeit in back-door fashion, that one can only hope is a sign of real things to come.

Where the administration had previously opposed reducing emissions of a new class of ozone-destroying (and climate-change inducing) chemicals, it now favors their reduction. Similarly, the White House seems to be starting to embrace the idea of building new structures with adaptations in place that deal with climate change.

First, the situation with those chemicals.

After saying the opposite a few months ago—which we covered in an earlier What We’re Reading on Sept 25—the Trump administration now says that it will back the phasing-out of a powerful new class of greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), said a US State Department official at a conference last Thursday in Montreal.

World leaders, led by the Obama administration, had previously agreed in October 2016 to phasing out HFCs by adding the so-called Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol—the treaty largely responsible for saving the ozone layer. According to self-described new media site Axios, after first trying to un-do the planned amendment, the administration is now taking the opposite tack: “The United States believes the Kigali Amendment represents a pragmatic and balanced approach to phasing down the production and consumption of HFCs and, therefore, we support the goals and approach of the amendment,” said Judith Garber, deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. (It should be noted, however, that there is not yet a schedule for sending the amendment to the Senate for ratification.)

Reading between the lines, it seems that manufacturing giant Honeywell and chemical company Chemours—a spin-off of Dupont de Nemours—had already invested more than $1 billion in manufacturing systems to make refrigerants that are more ozone-friendly than HFCs, and didn’t want to go back to the old way of doing things, which would have required a fortune to re-tool. They formed an alliance with environmental organizations to oppose Trump’s EPA (proving that politics does indeed make strange bedfellows).

Now, as to building new structures that can better resist climate change.

It may be that the White House is coming around to embrace the idea of adapting to deal with the reality of climate change, if a piece in Bloomberg is correct. As part of the $44-billion emergency budget request President Trump has made to Congress for recovery from hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, the White House has said that it wants to direct $12 billion to a competition to help towns and cities in becoming better able to adapt to, and bounce back from, flooding. The White House said it is also considering “large-scale buyouts in areas of high flood risk,” said Bloomberg. Related actions could include “structure hardening, forward-looking land-use plans [and] adoption of disaster resistant building codes” said the White House Office of Management and Budget in a summary of its emergency funding request—efforts which those espousing climate resiliency have called for a number of times.

“Given the Trump administration’s position on climate change and its apparent rejection of the basic science behind it, it’s surprising to see a $12-billion proposal for creating greater resilience,” said Joel Scata, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council—an organization that usually has to fight Trump’s efforts regarding climate, but found itself praising this idea.

Publication Name: 
Bloomberg