What are Donald Trump's policies on climate change and other environmental issues?

Our experts report on Trump's policies on climate change, fracking, renewable energy, the Paris Agreement and trade.
  05 Jul 2018    |      10 min

Donald Trump has said he will pull the US out of the Paris international climate agreement, taken steps to cut back the US Environmental Protection Agency, and is on record saying that global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese to attack US manufacturing.

The growing impacts of climate change are extremely serious and require urgent action. Yet the person at the helm of the world’s largest economy is ignoring the science – and at times preferring to pass the whole thing off as a foreign conspiracy.

Trump has both a Republican Senate and Republican Congress who have been heavily supported by industries that exploit coal, oil and gas – fuels we can't keep digging up if we want to avoid climate breakdown.

He has also surrounded himself with advisers linked to the dirty-energy industry, and filled his cabinet with climate change sceptics and deniers.

Here’s what we can tell so far about Donald Trump’s position on climate change, energy, the Paris Agreement and trade.

What is Donald Trump’s policy on climate change?

Trump has changed his mind a number of times on climate change.

In 2009 he was part of a business coalition pressuring President Obama to act swiftly.

If we fail to act now, it is scientifically irrefutable that there will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet.

Business coalition, featuring Donald Trump, 2009

But by 2012 he was calling climate change a Chinese hoax.

During the 2016 election campaign he went further and threatened to pull out of all climate negotiations and treaties.

He then appeared to have a slight change of heart, confessing to having “an open mind” – and agreeing “there is some connectivity” between human activity and climate change. However he also appointed a cabinet full of climate deniers and fossil fuel hangers-on.

And last year he followed through with an election-campaign threat, announcing that he would pull the US out of the Paris Agreement. The world's second largest emitter of climate-changing carbon dioxide gas might no longer be part of a deal to limit global temperature rise, and the extreme weather and sea rises that come with it.

Donald Trump and the fossil fuel industry

Trump’s closest energy advisors all have very strong links to either the fossil fuel industry or climate denial outfits.

Trump nominated long-time climate denier Rick Perry for Energy Secretary, and the CEO of ExxonMobil Rex Tillerson as his top diplomat, in the Secretary of State role. Tillerson, who urged Trump not to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, was soon replaced with former CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who opposed the US ever joining the Paris Agreement in the first place. Pompeo has accepted well over a million dollars from oil and gas industries in campaign contributions since 2009.

Trump's original administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Scott Pruitt had previously fought against the agency's clean air regulations and sued it to overturn President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. One EPA scientist is reported to have called Pruitt's appointment an “unprecedented disaster” for the natural world and public health. A Judge has recently told the EPA to release the evidence behind Pruitt’s claims that climate change has nothing to do with human activity. Pruitt resigned in July 2018.

Other top EPA officials have strong links to the fossil fuel industry, such as William Wehrum.

Trump’s Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is a big advocate of coal who has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from the industry.

What is Donald Trump’s policy on the Paris Agreement?

A crowd of people demonstrating at the UN climate talks in Paris, France, December 2015.
A crowd of people demonstrating at the UN climate talks in Paris, France, December 2015.

Trump has announced he will pull the US out of the United Nations Paris Climate Agreement. This agreement originally signed by 195 parties – including the US, EU and China – aims to limit global warming to 1.5°C. We've already had over 1°C of warming which has led to millions of people fleeing their homes.

Trump’s current top diplomat, Mike Pompeo, opposed the US ever signing up to the Paris Agreement in the first place.

Mr Trump remains the sole head of state who denies the reality of climate change. Other nations will need to lead the way and use every diplomatic and economic tool at their disposal to compel the US to act.

The world must unify in treating Trump as a pariah and not as an excuse for inaction. Erich Pica, Friends of the Earth US

What is Donald Trump’s policy on energy?

The theme of Donald Trump’s emerging energy policy mirrors that of the Republican Party – energy independence and energy security based on fossil fuels.

That means using American fossil fuel energy resources to the full. The priority is clear: “America is sitting on a treasure trove of untapped energy. In fact, America possesses more combined coal, oil, and natural gas resources than any other nation on Earth.”

Unfortunately this type of thinking is an express ticket to deadly rises in global temperature. Tackling climate change means keeping 80% of proven coal, oil and gas reserves in the ground.

There are 3 main proposals so far to realise Trump's catastrophic vision.

First, ending the current moratorium on coal mining leases. Second, fast-tracking new fossil fuel proposals and supporting new fossil fuel infrastructure. And third, scrapping regulations including President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

Surface coal mine in Wyoming, USA
Surface coal mine in Wyoming, USA
Credit: Greg Goebel

What is Donald Trump’s policy on renewable energy?

Trump has long stated his opposition to renewables. His administration’s budget for 2018 saw funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy cut by 72%.

One bizarre piece of support for renewables though was his announcement that his fabled Mexico Wall could be covered in solar panels – as a way to generate energy and make the wall pay for itself.

Fortunately, much of the progress that has taken place in renewable energy is happening in the private market and is not dependent on support from the federal government.

Even without subsidies or a price on carbon, renewable energy is cheaper than coal and cost-competitive with natural gas in the US.

This means that renewable technologies will continue to thrive – they are a huge growth sector. However, the US invests only a third of the amount that China spends on renewables, so it risks missing out on that growth.

photo of Cedar Creek wind farm, USA
Cedar Creek wind farm, USA
Credit: istock/Leppert

What is Donald Trump’s policy on fracking?

Trump is pro-fracking, just as he is pro-coal. At least, his advisers are. But it will be difficult for him to bring back the jobs in coal country.

The economics of coal mean that the industry is in deep trouble – and in the US the growth of the fracking industry and renewable energy has been a major cause of its difficulties.

To get coal back on its feet, Trump would need to change the economics. Pro-coal Australian prime-minister Malcolm Turnbull has found that being pro-coal isn’t enough if the investors won’t put in their money. Ramping up the coal industry would require billions in subsidies from the federal government.

Last year, Trump produced a plan to do exactly that – use taxpayers’ money to keep coal power stations open. It was unanimously rejected by regulators. Now he is working on a new plan, claiming that coal must be subsidised in the interests of national security.

If we want to keep global warming below even 2°C above pre-industrial levels, we already have more coal, oil and gas in production globally than we can safely burn.

The President should move away from both fracking and coal, and focus on America’s even bigger renewable energy resources. There is greater potential for jobs and the manufacturing industry in renewables than in fossil fuels.

Where are we headed?

The details of Trump’s energy policy are still emerging, but the signals are not good.

So many fossil fuel lobbyists at the heart of his team bode badly for millions of Americans and billions of people worldwide. We need stronger action on climate from the world’s largest economy.

But it's not all bad news. The growth of renewable energy is now unstoppable. And millions of Americans are determined to fight all the way, together, for a clean, prosperous country safe from pollution and climate change. This last point is why ultimately the fossil fuel lobbyists will lose.

And the facts of climate change are undeniable, meaning that Trump is seeing opposition to his climate-wrecking policies, even from his own side of Congress.

Join the millions around the world doing all they can to ensure that one man cannot wreck decades of work to stop the climate crisis.

What are Donald Trump’s policies on trade and the environment?

Headlines suggest that Donald Trump has declared war on US trade agreements.

And, indeed, it seems he is just doing just that.

Trump has pulled the US out of the recently-negotiated Trans Pacific Partnership deal and begun the renegotiation of the USA’s North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. He believes those deals are too generous to US trading partners and encourage the off-shoring of US manufacturing. These agreements also happen to threaten climate, environmental and other public interest regulations – but that's not why Trump is ditching them.

What Trump has said is that he wants to significantly increase US production and export of coal, oil and gas – as well as roll back public-interest regulation across the board.

As such, it’s hard to envision a future Trumpian US trade policy built on anything other than jingoism, greed and ignorance of environmental and climate science.

Thus, the idea that any of Trump’s proposed trade deals – including any future deal with the UK – will be better for the environment, people and planet than those he is promising to tear up is almost certainly nonsense. 

"We will campaign vigorously against any trade deal with the US. Why should they get to profit from trade with the UK, when their actions will result in more people dying from extreme weather around the world, contribute to ever more serious refugee crises, and cause increased flooding and disruption here in the UK?" Friends of the Earth CEO Craig Bennett.

Brexit and Donald Trump: 5 reasons why UK farmers should be concerned about a rushed trade deal with the US

Reporting team: US and UK climate campaign teams, Sam Lowe. Thanks to Ben Schreiber and Bill Warren.

First published 10 January 2017