Fuel for thought: Trump’s EPA gag order is a big deal. And a bad one.

The clampdown on the EPA and other US institutions affects billions of dollars in environmental funding for programmes around the world.

Donald Trump signs an executive order. The US President has clamped down on the US Environmental Protection Agency, forbidding it from talking to the media or issuing grants. Shawn Thew / EPA
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The move by the American president Donald Trump to block grants and contracts of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can have global implications.

According to reports yesterday, the Trump administration placed a gag order on agencies such as the EPA prohibiting employees from speaking to media as well as the freezing of grants and contracts.

This doesn’t just impact the United States.

The EPA, along with other US government institutions, in 1996 funded nearly US$1 billion to support programmes and activities, with 71 per cent relating to the “objectives of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)”, according to the US Government Accountability Office.

This was two decades before the Paris Agreement, the global accord ratified last year by 172 nations to curb the increase of global temperatures from rising above 2°C.

This action also doesn’t just impact the country’s potential back-pedaling of the Paris Agreement (which it must uphold for at least three years under the contract’s terms).

For the 2017 fiscal year, the EPA had an annual performance budget plan of over $8bn – a 1.5 per cent increase from the previous year’s allowance. A portion of that capital goes to international grants such as environmental governance in India, protecting at-risk communities in sub-Saharan Africa, creating cleaner fuels and vehicles in developing and transitioning countries, and promoting environmentally sound chemicals management worldwide.

The EPA works with global organisations and its model is the basis for many similar country-specific agencies. In the Mena region, the agency lends a helping hand from capacity building to helping implement efficiency programmes. “Some of these resources are environmental ministries, enforcement networks, as well as non-governmental organisations, plus much more in the Middle East and North Africa region,” the EPA’s website says.

Placing restrictions on scientific activities does a disservice to progression. Without such entities being enabled to vocalise findings or offering financial backing to eco-friendly initiatives, there would not be any research to help move the world beyond the status-quo.

The EPA has legally enforceable standards and treatment techniques for public water systems to protect public health. Nearly 2 billion people globally are affected by contaminated water.

Without the EPA, would we know that Volkswagen had 11 million of its vehicles equipped with software designed to cheat emissions tests, sending a message of accountability to large corporations? The EPA’s vehicle greenhouse gas rules also will have saved consumers $1.7 trillion in costs petrol by 2025 and eliminate 6bn metric tonnes of pollution.

Without the EPA and similar agencies, would the price of photovoltaic panels have dropped 80 per cent since 2009 if funding for research and development was halted? The cheaper the technology, the more deployment. In the US alone, there are more than 200,000 Americans working in solar. That’s more than twice the amount in 2010, and that number expected to jump 66 per cent in four years. And the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that solar PV provided jobs for 2.8 million people around the world.

Funding by the EPA provides assistance for millions of people across the world. To block the agency’s work, even if only temporary, can have major implications.

It isn’t about peddling some eco-friendly product or climate change. It’s about providing a better quality of life for everyone – including your children’s children.

lgraves@thenational.ae

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