By Zoe Tabary
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Rising global populism and pressure to reduce U.S. environmental regulation are among the issues to watch in 2017 as efforts to address climate change push ahead, a sustainability expert said Wednesday.
Action to address global warming should be non-partisan to make the kind of ambitious progress needed, Andrew Steer, president of the Washington-based World Resources Institute, told reporters.
But U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has suggested he will scrap policies to address climate change in his first year in office, Steer said, noting that even "the Environmental Protection Agency could be pulled off the table and abolished."
Steer predicted U.S. environmental groups will increasingly take the government to court to safeguard climate policies.
If Trump tries to reverse U.S. backing for the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, the United States, which has been "an astonishing leader" in pushing the deal, could find itself among a tiny pool of other reluctant nations including Syria, Nicaragua and Uzbekistan, he said.
Internationally, there has been "greater enthusiasm around the deal than expected" – a sign of what he called the "professionalization of the fight against climate change" with more countries seeing at home that economic growth doesn't need to produce higher emissions.
"Since the beginning of the century GDP has increased in 30 countries while their CO2 emissions have declined – and the club is growing," he said.
Steer also pointed to forced migration linked to climate pressures as a growing problem.
An average of 26 million people worldwide have been displaced by natural disasters per year since 2008, he said, citing data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.
"That's equivalent to one person per second," he said.
Whether new U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres follows Ban Ki-moon in prioritizing climate change "will be critical for climate action worldwide", Steer added.
Rising global populism – as well as coming elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands – are also likely to affect climate policies, Steer said.
"If you're against globalization, you tend to be against global agreements on climate," he said.
FOSSIL FUELS OR RENEWABLES?
Whether the world sees any level of fossil fuel renaissance or a continuing renewable energy surge also remains to be seen this year, Steer said.
The coal industry is declining globally, he said, while wind and solar energy are now cost-competitive with many fossil fuels, bolstered by a surge in clean energy investment.
Emerging markets are proving leaders in clean energy, he said, pointing to China's commitment last week to spend at least $360 billion on renewable energy by 2020.
But in the United States - as well as other nations - corporate commitments to climate action also are accelerating, Steer said.
"One fifth of U.S. professionally managed assets were guided by some form of sustainable investment practices in 2016," he said.
(Reporting by Zoe Tabary, editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)