CRES Forum On President Trump’s First Address To The United Nations General Assembly
By Arianna Skibell
As originally published on September 19th, 2017 in E&E News
President Trump today delivered his first address before the U.N. General Assembly, where he enumerated pressing global threats like rogue regimes, “loser terrorists” and international criminal networks.
Conspicuously absent was the threat of a changing climate.
“I’m not surprised, but I am saddened,” retired Navy Rear Adm. David Titley, a member of the Center for Climate and Security’s Advisory Board, said in response.
“Still, not mentioning it does not make the problem go away … the climate doesn’t really pay attention to what Trump does or doesn’t say; the ice continues to melt.”
Trump began his speech with a list of the “serious threats before us.” He noted that each day brings news of growing dangers, such as terrorists, extremists and rogue regimes that are “represented in this body.”
The president slammed international criminal networks that traffic drugs and people. He lambasted North Korea, threatening to “totally destroy” the country. And he called the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, a “rocket man” on a “suicide mission.”
In contrast, President Obama, in his 2010 address, said efforts to end such conflicts will be “eclipsed by wars over refugees and resources.”
“The danger posed by climate change cannot be denied,” Obama said. “Development will be devastated by drought and famine. Land that human beings have lived on for millennia will disappear.”
Paul Bledsoe, a Clinton-era White House climate adviser, said Trump has made clear he is out of step with other world leaders when it comes to addressing global warming.
“He’s just out on his own planet,” said Bledsoe, currently a strategic adviser at the Progressive Policy Institute. “His willful sophistry on the science and deliberate ignoring of the manifest current harm to our nation and others is starkly contrasted with the increasingly dire concerns of the rest of the world.”
Bledsoe noted the recent contention surrounding the international Paris climate agreement, about which the administration delivered a bevy of mixed messages over the weekend as to whether the president still intends to withdraw from it (Greenwire, Sept. 18).
“The dalliances of his staff regarding the Paris interaction show they at least know they have a serious problem, but no diplomatic doublespeak can overcome Trump’s deliberate and continuing decisions to put crass political manipulation at home ahead of the safety of millions here and around the world,” said Bledsoe.
During his address, Trump said that while the world faces great threats, it is also a time of great opportunity. Governing bodies can either “lift the world to new heights or let it fall into a valley of despair,” he said.
Titley said he agrees that the United States has vast potential to lead the world, but said the country’s leadership is choosing not to.
“America is a superpower of renewable energy with tremendous assets in wind and solar,” he said, likening the situation to investing money in breeding horses for transportation at the turn of the 20th century.
“It seems to me that regardless of what the president may or may not think about a changing climate,” said Titley, “this is an opportunity he might miss, and that’s very sad.”
Charles Hernick, director of policy and advocacy for the right-leaning Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, countered that the president only gets so many minutes on the podium.
“Whether or not the president talks about climate change in any given speech is secondary to what we know are his top priorities in this space: U.S. energy dominance and jobs for Americans,” he said.
“In both cases, clean energy is the answer. Over the last five years, the clean energy landscape has totally changed. The solar sector has been particularly impressive, growing 12 times faster than the rest of the economy.”
Others were less forgiving. RL Miller, a California-based Democratic operative, said she was not surprised that Trump failed to mention climate, because he doesn’t “understand the reality of the hurricanes and wildfires devastating the nation.”
“The man used fourth-grade insults, like phrases ‘loser terrorists’ and ‘rocket man,'” she said. “Science might be too hard for him to understand.”
Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), co-chairman of the House United for Climate and Environmental Justice Task Force, said climate change poses a huge risk, the realities of which are already manifest in longer droughts, dangerous heat waves and increased flooding.
“Instead of ignoring that reality, the president needs to shine a light on it,” he said in a statement to E&E News. “The way we minimize climate change is to act — and action is a lot easier if everyone understands the stakes.”
Trump did carve out time to condemn socialism and communism as “discredited ideologies” and “cruel systems,” statements striking some observers as outdated. “That’s so 1989,” Titley said. “There was some guy named Reagan that kind of finished that one off.”
While Trump has curbed Obama-era climate policies across the government, municipal leaders continue to take action on a local level.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel yesterday announced that his city will host a two-day conference this December to generate ideas for how cities can address climate change and implement the Paris Agreement.
Former U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres said the event will “provide an opportunity for mayors to continue acting on the political will demonstrated in Paris, showing that local action is being taken to fulfill commitments.”
Paris’ Anne Hidalgo, Montreal’s Denis Coderre, Austin’s Steve Adler and Atlanta’s Kasim Reed, among other city leaders, are expected to attend.