After his recent primary wins Donald Trump is assured to be the Republican Party’s nominee for President.  Polling shows he could beat President Biden in November. If Donald Trump wins and serves a second term what does that mean for climate policy in the US?

It is a question anyone who cares about climate change needs to answer.

A second Trump Administration will likely mean a clear break from the actions of the Biden on environmental and energy initiatives. Beyond the calls of “drill, baby, drill” at his rallies or posting that supporters of electric vehicles can “ROT IN HELL” what would Trump actually do to change climate and energy policy?

No surprises

Sometimes when a candidate runs and wins there is speculation on how they will adjust to the realities of facing challenges while in office versus talking about them on the campaign trail.

There is no need to do this with Donald Trump. Given that he is the first U.S. President since Grover Cleveland in 1892  to lose his reelection bid and run four years later we have already seen how he will act. On climate change this means he will seek to repeal initiatives to lower greenhouse gas emissions and work to boost fossil fuel production.

Some of the actions Trump took during his first term that we would likely see him do again include:

  • Withdrawing the US from the Paris Agreement,
  • Appointing agency heads and commission members hostile to climate action
  • Appointing judges who would restrict the power of regulatory agencies to act
  • Repealing Executive Orders on the social cost of carbon
  • Raising import taxes on solar panels
  • Defunding clean energy programs

Much has changed

Trump’s new term would likely not merely be a repeat of his first four years. He will likely want to take on new initiatives and go further than he did last time in office. This is driven by the fact that since Trump left office climate policy has been redrawn in the US.

President Biden not only restored Obama Administration Executive Orders and had the US rejoin the Paris Agreement but went further. In 2022, Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, which included $369 billion in climate-related spending, and the Infrastructure Bill, which contained $230 billion in new funding to support the energy transition and climate adaptation.

The current administration also set a goal of having the US reach net-zero emissions economy-wide by 2050, requiring 67% of all new cars and trucks sold in America to be electric by 2032, and requiring agencies to consider the social cost of carbon when implementing new regulations. At the same time Biden’s appointees at the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) have implemented new climate risk disclosure requirements for publicly traded companies. Each of these actions would likely be targeted by President Trump early on in his administration.

Following the plan

Perhaps the best guide to how the second Trump Administration would govern has been laid out in the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025. To understand the potential importance of this document one should remember that since its founding in the 1970s Heritage has been one of the premier US conservative think tanks and a member of the international Atlas network of free market think tanks.

During Trump’s first term, 66 of his appointees had worked for the Heritage Foundation in the past. There is precedent for Heritage helping to guide Republican administrations. In 1980, they created a similar road map for then-candidate Ronald Reagan, 60% of which Reagan fully implemented or initiated during his first year in office. It is likely we see a similar commitment from Trump to turn these ideas into reality.

Project 2025 details specific ways President Trump could attempt stop or reverse action of climate change. The proposals laid out include:

  • Changing how the National Climate Assessment is compiled and used that undermine health and environmental regulations
  • Eliminating the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Limiting the consumer tax credit that provides up to $7,500 to electric vehicle buyers
  • Stopping the expansion of the electrical grid for wind and solar energy
  • Slashing funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental justice office
  • Ending US payments to the climate Loss Damage Fund
  • Using the SEC to oppose ESG investing
  • Scrapping the SEC’s climate risk disclosure requirements
  • Encouraging oil drilling in the arctic
  • Removing the federal waiver authority that permits California to set its own vehicle standards
  • Closing the Department of Energy’s renewable energy offices

These goals can be accomplished by an Executive Order from the President or the work of agencies appointees. How much further a second Trump Administration could go is dependent on whether he has the backing of majorities in both Houses of Congress and whether or not legislative delay tactics like the filibuster can be used.

No go zone

While Trump will have the power to change policy, it is important to remember there are areas he cannot touch. In individual states, governors and legislators will have the ability to pass and enact climate related measures. Over the years states have used this power to implement policies around spending on renewable energy, capping carbon emissions, and climate risk disclosure. This is likely to continue over the next four years.

In addition, just as we saw states challenge the Biden Administration’s climate proposals in the courts, we are likely to see the same happen regarding Trump’s actions. This litigation will likely tie up administration efforts in years of legal battle.

While policy fights will continue in the courts and state houses, we should not discount what has happened outside of government. Currently,  400 US companies, like Walmart, Nike, and Apple, are still working to reach their net-zero targets. Their decision to continue with these targets will be much more influenced by changing economic conditions rather than who sits in the White House.

Globally, there has been over $6.9 trillion spent on the energy transition over the past decade, with record investments being made last year. These large-scale commitments and the opportunities that come with them are likely too big to be contained by even the most hostile U.S. Administration.

The next challenge

Given how much President Biden was engaged on climate and energy policy, some commentators might say a Trump victory shows that Americans do not care about environmental issues like climate change or want a change in energy policy. But is that true?

Polling shows a clear picture. Currently, in the US, majorities in the country support America participating in international efforts to reduce the effects of climate change (74%), having the government encourage the develop of renewable energy (67%) and having the country become carbon neutral by 2050 (69%).

Over the next four years, the challenge for climate advocates will be to mobilize that support and turn it into action in the public and private sector.  Whether climate advocates succeed or not will tell us as much about America’s role in fighting climate change as who sits in the White House.