Trump quiet as the UN warns of climate change catastrophe

Faced with a major UN report that warns of floods, drought, extreme heat and increased poverty should the world not take radical action to address climate change, Donald Trump has been uncharacteristically quiet.

The US president was visiting Florida, a state particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and currently in the path of Hurricane Michael, when the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warned on Monday that “unprecedented” changes were needed to stave off dire impacts if the world warms 1.5C beyond the pre-industrial period.

Trump, who has previously called climate change a “hoax” and questioned whether global warming was occurring because it snowed last winter, told reporters only that he was aware of the report: “It was given to me. And I want to look at who drew it … Because I can give you reports that are fabulous, and I can give you reports that aren’t so good. But I will be looking at it, absolutely.”

Trump has been at odds with the rest of the world when it comes to climate change, with the US the world’s only country to disavow the Paris climate agreement, which committed governments to attempt to stay within the 1.5C limit. The planet has already warmed by around 1C over the past 150 years.

“I don’t think the administration cares about this at all,” said Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University, prior to Trump’s brief comments. “They just want to figure out how to ignore it all. It’s really disappointing. It’s a real failure that the US government isn’t helping people understand there’s a train coming down the track fast at us and we need to get out of the way.”

“We need an international agreement where there is leadership. It would be great if that was the US, but someone else has to step up now.”

The US Environmental Protection Agency, which has an official position that climate change is harmful to public health, thanked the “hard work of the scientists and experts” but said it did not “formally endorse specific findings presented by the authors”.

Under the Trump administration, the EPA has taken a more industry-friendly stance, weakening greenhouse gas rules around oil drilling and vehicle fuel efficiency, as well as tearing up an Obama-era plan to limit pollution from coal-fired power plants. The agency removed its section on climate change from its website last year for an “update” that has yet to materialize.

A spokeswoman for the state department said the US is “leading the world in providing affordable, abundant and secure energy to our citizens, while protecting the environment and reducing emissions through job-creating innovation”.

She pointed out that US carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 were at their lowest level since 1992, outlining an approach to climate change that has “unburdened communities, individuals and industries by allowing them to develop and implement policies that fit their needs”.

According to the IPCC report, however, far deeper cuts – resulting in net zero emissions by 2050 – will be required if the world is to avoid warming beyond 1.5C. Scientists have warned that the enormous changes in energy, transportation and land use required to meet this goal are technically possible, but currently appear unlikely.

“Keeping warming below 1.5C will be very, very hard,” said Dessler. “It’s going to take a reimagining of how the world is constructed around us and we are lacking imagination. Fundamentally, we need to change the politicians in Washington. That’s the key.”

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