A second Donald Trump presidency would undermine global efforts to curb climate change

As we approach a critical point, the former president’s disdain for environmental concerns could affect the world beyond the US

Like many scientists around the world, I am greatly alarmed at the possibility of the return of Donald Trump to the White House. At the time of writing, he is firmly on course to win the republican primaries and is being tipped in some polls as the clear favourite to win the forthcoming United States presidential election.

Outside – and perhaps inside – the US, it seems astonishing that a candidate who openly refuses to accept the outcome of the last election, and who has been indicted on multiple criminal counts, has a real prospect of becoming president of the US for a second time. Most media commentary has focused on the likely effect of this event on international politics, but there are other serious concerns.

To be sure, a second Trump presidency would undoubtedly have extremely serious consequences for the war in Ukraine. Nothing in Trump’s record suggests that he would offer any opposition to Putin’s invasion and crucial US funding for the military defence of Ukraine would almost certainly disappear. It has already been delayed at every turn by republican politicians in Congress.

Similarly, the consequences for war in the Middle East could be devastating. With Trump urging no restraint at all to Netanyahu’s administration, one can easily imagine the war in Gaza escalating into a widespread and lengthy conflict throughout the Middle East.


However, there is another alarming aspect of a second Trump presidency that received much less media attention – namely, its effect on efforts to combat global climate change.

In his previous administration, Trump’s utter disdain for environmental concerns and his outright dismissal of the problem of human-made climate change could not have been clearer. We can expect the same behaviour if he is elected a second time: which is to say we will almost certainly witness once again the appointment of Trump loyalists and industry advocates with little expertise or interest in environmental science to key positions in organisations such as the US Environmental Protection Agency. This would be, accompanied by the wholesale sidelining of experts in those organisations.

For example, instead of a pause in the licensing of drilling of oil and gas, as urgently specified by every international report on climate, one could expect a surge in drilling in the US under a second Trump administration – even in environmentally sensitive areas such as the Arctic – “Drill, baby, drill”, as he recently urged at a public rally.

One might argue that the world has seen this behaviour before and survived, but we may now be approaching a critical point in global climate. With surface temperatures already beginning to breach the critical benchmark of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, and the continuing failure to bend the curve on the rise of greenhouse gas emissions, we may be close to the era of irreversible global warming. Indeed, as summer approaches in the northern hemisphere, we can expect to experience the now annual manifestations of climate change in the form of devastating heatwaves, forest fires and flooding in different regions.

As the world’s largest economy, the US is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, a steady increase in emissions from US industry would virtually guarantee a continuation of global warming.

Another problem concerns the effect of a second Trump presidency on international agreements to combat climate change. From his own statements, there is little question that Trump would lose no time in withdrawing the US from international accords such as Cop29 and the Paris Agreement (for a second time), claiming such agreements disadvantage US industry. This would be an extremely serious development as it could trigger the withdrawal of many other nations from climate accords, just at a time when co-ordinated international action to curb emissions is absolutely critical.

Winston Churchill reputedly once quipped that “democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried”. There is some truth in this statement, but one wonders how the US ended up in a situation where a demonstrably corrupt and malign candidate has a strong chance of being elected president. Moreover, it appears that democracy can be heavily influenced by misinformation, an issue that is ever more problematic in the era of social media. Another caveat is that only US voters get to vote in a US election – yet the results will have an impact on all citizens of the world.

Dr Cormac O’Raifeartaigh lectures in physics at Waterford Institute of Technology and is a visiting associate professor at the school of physics in UCD

  • See our new project Common Ground, Evolving Islands: Ireland & Britain
  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here