Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Unlike many other global threats, in terms of climate change, we have a clear understanding of the limited time frame for intervention. The next few decades offer a brief window of opportunity for global leaders to minimize large-scale and potentially catastrophic consequences. (Photo: NASA)

Memo to Trump: US Interests in the Era of Climate Change

Magdalena J. Seol

During the US presidential campaign, President-elect Trump argued that global efforts to address climate change, such as the Paris Climate Agreement, were a “bad deal” that posed an unnecessary burden for business. Although he initially indicated he could withdraw from the Paris Agreement, he has more recently suggested that he has an open mind. I would urge him to reconsider his opposition to climate change cooperation. As more than 300 US businesses recently argued in an open letter, failing to invest in a more energy efficient and green future will be a “bad deal” for long-term US interests.

The global economy is undergoing profound changes. It is moving, inexorably, toward a green economy. Last year’s Paris Climate Agreement, while by itself far from enough to limit the increase in global warming to a desired target, has become an important catalyst for global economic cooperation and integration regardless of whether or not one believes in global warming. The 21st century economy, including America’s very own, will be rebuilt on a new, high-tech, climate-safe, and low-carbon system.

The United States is already invested in this new system—it cannot disconnect from the new rules of the game. As we saw during the 2016 COP22 Conference in Marrakesh, regardless of the claims of climate change deniers, the overwhelming majority of countries on the planet are marching on toward a more green and sustainable economy. Ultimately, US businesses and the economy will lose by disengaging from this progress. And, in turn, US disengagement means that everyone loses—even China is warning the United States against abandoning the Paris Agreement.

President-elect Trump may also find that climate change is not just an economic issue, but an important national security agenda. The consequences of climate change, such as storms, extreme heat, droughts, and floods, impose serious threats to the United States and other countries. Domestically, the effects of climate change can overwhelm disaster-response capabilities; internationally, they cause humanitarian disasters that contribute to political violence affecting multiple countries. Beyond these threats, there is also a strategic dimension to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Working together with countries such as China and India to reduce emissions can help the United States integrate those countries into the global rules-based order; it can also help facilitate a more stable development trajectory for countries such as Indonesia. It can potentially be applied in facilitating changes in deadlock situations like the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The Asian region is still dealing with volatile economic, military, political, and demographic transitions, from China’s economic slowdown and increasing tensions over the South China Sea to environmental degradation and demographic problems throughout the region. Climate change affects almost all of these problems, both directly and indirectly. It serves as a threat multiplier that significantly intensifies the region’s instability.

Asia will need bold actions and closer partnerships with other countries to tackle these complex challenges. Partnership on climate change and environmental issues can provide a relatively safe entry point for political cooperation that can keep bilateral channels open even in the midst of ongoing friction. In some cases, such cooperation may provide a way out of conflict or may even offer ideas for innovative institutional and governance mechanisms. As we recently saw, China’s partnership with the United States on the Paris Agreement helped to keep open a channel for both nations to work together regardless of intensifying tensions on issues such as the South China Sea.

Unlike many other global threats, in terms of climate change, we have a clear understanding of the limited time frame for intervention. The next few decades offer a brief window of opportunity for global leaders to minimize large-scale and potentially catastrophic consequences. The broad international consensus that is building around this issue is helping to generate concrete policy proposals to prevent these outcomes. President-elect Trump and his administration should harness this growing cooperation, and the opportunity it provides to advance US political and economic purposes. The march toward a greener future is underway; I hope the United States will continue to stay on this path.

This post originally appeared in The Asia Society Policy Institute briefing book, Advice for the 45th US President: Opinions from across the Pacific.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Magdalena J. Seol

Magdalena J. Seol is Founder and Managing Director of GDA, a strategy advisory group based in Seoul dedicated to global development and private sector innovation. She previously served as an Assistant Secretary to the President of the Republic of Korea, managing the globalization arm of key agendas related to climate change and low-carbon economic development.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Infuriating Disappointment': Biden DHS Ramping Up Deportations to Haiti

"It is unconscionable for the Biden administration to resume deportation flights to Haiti, despite the country's ongoing political, economic, and environmental disasters."

Jessica Corbett ·

Architect of Texas Abortion Ban Takes Aim at LGBTQ+ Rights While Urging Reversal of Roe

"Make no mistake, the goal is to force extreme, outdated, religious-driven values on all of us through the courts."

Jessica Corbett ·

Ahead of Canadian Election, Bernie Sanders and Rashida Tlaib Endorse NDP

"Bernie, you have fought courageously for public healthcare, affordable medication, making the rich pay their fair share, and tackling the climate crisis," said party leader Jagmeet Singh. "We're doing the same here."

Jessica Corbett ·

US Urged to End Drone Strikes After Pentagon Says Killing 10 Afghan Civilians Was 'Horrible Mistake'

"That was not a 'mistake,'" said journalist Anand Giridharadas. "War crimes are not oopsies."

Brett Wilkins ·

40+ NYC Activists Arrested for Protests Against Banks Fueling Climate Emergency

"We're sending a message loud and clear that the little action that politicians and greenwashing CEOs have taken so far does not begin to deal with the magnitude of this crisis."

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo