In the United States, President Trump has turned climate skepticism into U.S. policy. Now that skepticism appears to be setting the tone for other world leaders to deny climate science or resist taking action to cut carbon emissions.
At the global climate summit taking place in Poland, the Trump administration has touted coal power and helped block language that “welcomes” a dire U.N. report on climate change published last month.
Activists say Trump’s influence on the summit has been clear — and negative. “He’s opened the door to people who were on the fringe to be in the room and spread their fact-free message,” Keith Gaby, a spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund, told The Washington Post’s Darryl Fears. “The president doesn’t believe his own government when it comes to climate change, and he’s emboldened others to come forward.”
In many places, those skeptics are gaining government power and political influence.
Saudi Arabia has taken particularly harsh criticism for its climate change stances in recent days. The oil-producing kingdom was one of the countries that blocked the welcoming of the U.N. climate report Saturday. On Monday, it issued a statement saying that “further research and analysis” is needed to fill “gaps” in climate science.
On Twitter on Monday, Saudi Arabia’s former lead negotiator for the Paris agreement mocked the pact, calling it a “big conspiracy” cooked up by a “climate mafia.”
“The Saudis have historically been the worst actors at major U.N. climate negotiations, attempting to slow down agreement on more routine matters to run out the clock on more important issues,” Paul Bledsoe, a climate-change adviser during the Clinton administration, told The Post.
Saudi Arabia was joined in Saturday’s effort by Russia, whose president, Vladimir Putin, denies that humans are causing climate change. “We are really witnessing global warming,” Putin said at the Russian Energy Week forum in October. “The reasons, however, remain obscure, because there’s been no answer on so-called anthropogenic emissions.”
While Russia signed the Paris agreement, Putin’s government has taken little action to reduce the country’s emissions. According to a study published last month by the science journal Nature, Russia’s current climate policies would push up global temperatures by more than 5 degrees Celsius — at least 3 degrees higher than the limit climate scientists are aiming for.
Other countries also have factions that aren’t doing much to battle climate change.
In August in Australia, Malcolm Turnbull resigned as prime minister after a failed attempt to cap the country’s carbon emissions and fulfill its pledges under the Paris agreement. His replacement, Scott Morrison, has promised to keep those pledges but has offered little indication of how the country will do so. Meanwhile, Australia’s carbon emissions are rising, according to government data published in September.
The country’s climate activists were stunned that Australia’s delegation to the climate change summit in Poland stood on the sidelines during the debate over welcoming the U.N. report. “By remaining silent and not putting a position forward, Australia has tacitly supported the U.S., Russia and Saudi Arabia’s rejection of the latest science on climate change,” Richie Merzian, the climate and energy program director at the Australia Institute, told the Guardian.
And in Europe, many of the continent’s ascendant far-right parties deny or play down climate change, including in Germany, Sweden and host country Poland. The far-right Alternative for Germany party, which won nearly 100 seats in Germany’s Bundestag last year, opposes the Paris accords and attacks climate science itself. The Sweden Democrats, who came in third in this year’s general election, are similarly skeptical and say Sweden has already done enough to fight climate change. And Poland’s Law and Justice party, the host of this week’s conference, is a notably ardent supporter of the coal industry.
While Brazil was on target on cutting emissions, along with Japan and China, according to a U.N. report last month, some worry that it won’t stay in that category.
Jair Bolsonaro, the president-elect, says he’s not a climate skeptic, but his incoming administration seems poised to do major damage to the fight against climate change. Bolsonaro campaigned on promises to open more of the Amazon rain forest to logging and farming, ease environmental regulations, and withdraw from the Paris agreement. “Environmental politics can’t muddle with Brazil’s development,” he said last week.
The health of the Amazon is considered critical to keeping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Cutting down and burning trees releases carbon pollution into the air and reduces the number of plants converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. But with Bolsonaro coming into office, deforestation is already accelerating, according to Brazil’s loggers.
“There is no point sugarcoating it," Paulo Artaxo, a climate change researcher at the University of Sao Paulo, told Science magazine. "Bolsonaro is the worst thing that could happen for the environment.”