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USB Academics: Why Trump is wrong to deny climate change
Dated: Thursday, June 15, 2017
​President Donald Trump announced on the 1 June that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. According to Lee-Ann Steenkamp, a senior lecturer specialising in fiscal policy and climate change at USB, Trump's views are dubious and vigorously disputed by environmental groups. Read more here.

President Donald Trump announced on the 1st of June that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.  Although disheartening, his decision comes as no surprise. After all, Mr Trump views climate change as a 'hoax'.

 

Citing job losses, the undermining of the US economy, and weakening of American national sovereignty, Mr Trump regards the Paris Agreement as putting the US at a permanent disadvantage to other countries of the world.

According to Lee-Ann Steenkamp, a senior lecturer specialising in fiscal policy and climate change at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), Trump's views are dubious and vigorously disputed by environmental groups. Says Steenkamp, "influential business leaders of Tesla, General Electric and Goldman Sachs are of the opinion that Mr Trump's decision would ultimately harm the economy by ceding the jobs of the future in clean energy and technology to overseas competitors."

 

The Paris Agreement was painstakingly negotiated over several years and is the result of careful diplomacy, cooperation and collaboration. Adopted 15 years after the US withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement was concluded in December 2015.

 

Experts such as Steenkamp agree that the agreement represents a landmark, multilateral treaty to keep global temperature increase to well below 2°C. The accord is premised on contributions determined by countries themselves, towards collectively-agreed global goals. It is therefore non-binding and flexible. The almost 200 signatory countries have ample room to chart their own courses within the ambit of the agreement. 

 

Steenkamp is further critical on the US position: "As the second largest emitter, the US has a moral obligation to not only lead the global effort in reducing emissions, but also to support less developed economies in meeting their targets. Mr Trump's view that the Paris Agreement is a legal liability is a reflection of his 'America first' foreign policy doctrine. Instead of honouring the international partnership to combat climate change, he has broken faith with the rest of the world."

 

Dr Jako Volschenk, senior lecturer in Strategy and Sustainability at the USB, is equally critical of Trump's position:  "At best one can say that Mr Trump is favouring the American people above the interest of global survival even though climate change will also impact the Americans. But at worst it seems that Mr Trump is favouring the interest of the rich and the fossil fuel industry above those of the poor and a cleaner future."

 

Steenkamp believes that Mr Trump's retraction should be seen an opportunity for a new broad, committed leadership. Prof Arnold Smit, associate professor of Business in Society at USB, agrees with this sentiment. "Ours is a time in which we can rightfully expect from world leaders to exercise responsibility and solidarity as they work together in the interest of the global common good," he said. 

 

"USB made a deliberate choice for 'responsible leadership' as a cross-cutting theme in our curricula and we are signatories to the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME)", says USB Director, Prof Piet Naudé. "And this surely includes an acute awareness of the threats posed by non-agreement on climate change, as well as an eye for new business opportunities opened up by the green economy."

 

The first UN report on sustainable development back in 1987 gave a good reason why politicians find it easy to ignore global matters like climate change: "We act as we do because we can get away with it: future generations do not vote; they do not have political or financial power; they cannot challenge our decisions."

 

Yet, they will live in the world created by us now.