The Trump administration is not alone in its aversion to government action to combat climate change.
While all countries except the U.S. remain committed to the 2015 Paris climate agreement that President Trump rejected, conservative resistance movements around the globe have stymied leaders in a handful of countries with powerful fossil fuel industries from implementing policy to achieve emissions reduction goals.
"There is no doubt Trump's climate science denial and policy rollbacks gives license to others who want to exploit that, in countries like Australia and Canada, and others," said Paul Bledsoe, a former climate change adviser to President Bill Clinton and strategic adviser at the Progressive Policy Institute.
"When the president of the U.S. takes these remarkable positions, it leaves a vacuum of climate leadership. There is no two ways about it," Bledsoe added.
Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, says large emitting countries have long faced domestic pressures to combating climate change, even before Trump.
“The Republican Party may be the only ruling party where those rules seem to hold sway, but there are these pockets of ideological resistance as well,” Diringer said.
The federal governments in countries like Canada and Australia are struggling to find broad support for policies to meet their pledges to the Paris agreement, under which nations set their own nonbinding targets for reducing carbon emissions.
"On the international side, there is concern that the agreement reached among all the world's leaders is vulnerable if key stakeholders hold back," said Robert Orr, the special adviser to the United Nations secretary general on climate change. "Many governments face what I would describe as nationalistic headwinds for any kind of policy, be it climate or otherwise, that is perceived as cooperative, not competitive. The competitive fires are being stoked in many capitals.”
Australia, the world’s largest exporter of coal, has seen perhaps the most dramatic impact pushback to climate change mitigation policies. The issue helped topple the government this summer.
In August, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull abandoned his push for a greenhouse gas reduction plan after being pressured by conservatives within his center-right Liberal Party who forced his ouster. Days later, the party chose Scott Morrison to replace Turnbull, elevating a coal industry supporter who rejected the emissions plan even as Australia has been experiencing rising ocean temperatures and record drought.
Morrison has pledged to fulfill Australia’s Paris target to reduce emission levels in 2030 to 26 percent below 2005 levels, even as emissions are continuing to increase — unlike in the U.S. — but without having a policy to get there.
“We have a culture war going on in Australia about climate change,” said Robyn Eckersley, political science professor at University of Melbourne. “It's a litmus test of whether you are one of them or one of us.”
Eckersley added that climate and energy policy have been in divisive in Australia for at least a decade.
For example, Australia, under then-Prime Minister John Howard, joined the George W. Bush administration in refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, an international climate change agreement proceeding Paris requiring mandatory emissions cuts.
“It is quite right to say backing away from climate policy is not a uniquely American phenomenon,” Eckersley said. “But while there is a similarity with Trump’s policy on ‘beautiful coal’, we have our home brand version of this and it has been a persistent feature of our political landscape.”
Australia's climate backtracking could be a harbinger for Canada, where liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces re-election next year while confronting challenges from politicians opposed to his plan to impose a federal carbon tax.
Conservatives have pledged to undo the plan, and some fossil fuel-rich western provinces are challenging it in court.
Trudeau has allowed provinces to come up with their own carbon pricing plans, and has said the federal government will force a carbon tax on all provinces starting Jan. 1, 2019 if they don’t adopt an adequate one.
The prolonged fight will make it difficult for Canada to achieve its Paris target of reducing emissions 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Trump’s policies hold particular sway in Canada, because the two country's energy economies are so interconnected. Canada is the biggest U.S. supplier of foreign oil and a significant net exporter of electricity to America. Canada has, for the past 50 years, generally followed U.S. environmental regulations.
“The U.S. is by far Canada's leading trading partner and we are much vulnerable in that trading relationship than the U.S.,” said Kathryn Harrison, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia. “What that means is if we are forging ahead with adopting carbon pricing or a regulation independent of the U.S., Canadian industry is even more empowered to fight back and say there will be impacts to competitiveness.”
Like-minded politicians to Trump have responded to his rhetoric and copied his tactics, political scientists say.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, a populist businessman elected this summer, fulfilled a campaign promise in July by rejecting the province’s cap-and-trade agreement and challenging the federal carbon tax in court because he deemed it too costly. Ontario, Canada’s most populated province, had historically been a leader in fighting climate change, phasing out all of its coal plants.
“Ford's position seems like policymaking on the whims of a single leader, which is reminiscent of the Trump administration,” Harrison said. “It’s easy for political opposition to launch an opportunistic campaign against a carbon tax. It's easy to play on people’s misunderstandings and self interest.”
In Alberta, Jason Kenney of the opposition United Conservative Party has vowed not to participate in any carbon tax plan if elected in 2019. Last month, the current Alberta Premier Rachel Notley removed the oil-rich province from the national carbon pricing project.
“President Trump’s positions don't go unnoticed, particularly among conservative governments that have either come to power or will in the not too distant future,” said Blair Feltmate, chairman of Canada’s Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience, a group of experts assembled by Trudeau to advise the government on climate policy.
But Feltmate says Trudeau, and other politicians interested in leading against climate change, are adjusting their tactics to win support. Canada, like the U.S. and other places across the world, has suffered this summer from wildfires and heatwaves. Smoke from hundreds of wildfires in western Canada has made the air quality in Vancouver worse than Beijing.
People generally view climate change as a future problem, but extreme weather events worsened by climate change are forcing politicians to focus policy and rhetoric on adaptation, or ways to limit the effects of rising sea levels, and higher floodwaters, by building flood walls, or updating building codes, for example.
“The problem is the public is not committed to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions if you talk about it in terms of transitioning our energy mix,” Feltmate said. “Trudeau is very much going to play up the adaptation component because that's what people feel first hand. Climate change won't be a hill he dies on."
For climate hawks, the news is not all bad for global momentum to fight global warming.
Key emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil, Korea, South Africa, Columbia, and Mexico have not retreated from their commitments to the Paris deal, some proceeding with emissions trading programs, others imposing a carbon tax, and making large investments in renewable energy.
And ironically, the U.S. without Trump is on pace to meet two-thirds of its Paris agreement goal of lowering the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 because market forces, and states and cities, have united to pick up the slack.
"By and large countries remain committed to the Paris agreement," Diringer said. "Most of what we are seeing with opposition at the domestic level is driven by their own internal dynamics, and competing economic and political interests. One of the lessons we've learned over the years is strong, sustained climate action has to be built from the ground up. International agreements can help facilitate that, but the real drivers are the recognition of the risks and opportunity at the local and national level.”