Could a National Emergency Be Used to Combat Climate Change?

If President Trump is to draw US politics into an even more fractious era, could and should the next Democrat President call a national emergency to deal with climate change?

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Trump calling a state of national emergency to deal with the migrant crisis at the Southern border (which actually means “to build a wall”) is, at best, a misjudgement, and at worst, a flagrant abuse of power. It is the use of a mechanism seldom used to achieve a political goal, rather than to deal with a real, serious problem.

It’s the sort of thing we’re well-accustomed to under the Trump administration.

But this situation raises questions about the future use of such a mechanism. Could and should a Democratic administration, either from 2020 or later, use it to try to combat climate change?

There are a few issues with proposing calling a state of emergency to deal with climate change.

Firstly, it could create, encourage, and entrench a more fractious and tribal style of politics, where the Republicans and Democrats abuse the democratic processes to achieve their political goals. The GOP want that game to be played, and, seeing as Republicans have played it well for the past few years, Democrats probably shouldn’t take them on at their own game.

Moreover, there is a case that this isn’t just entrenching fractious and polarised politics, but also an example of democratic backsliding, where democratic institutions are eroded slowly over time, creating fertile ground for an autocratic leader. This has been happening for some time in the US, explaining Trump and his use of a national emergency to achieve a political aim, and Democrats should be looking to put a stop to it.

Furthermore, if the courts hold up Trump’s current use of a national emergency to build the wall, then the Democrats may have a much tougher time when attempting to use one to deal with climate change.

Having said all of that, though, there is a better case for the use of a national emergency to prevent climate change.

Firstly, it is a very real, damaging, and serious issue — where President Trump is using this mechanism to build a wall, not deal with a problem, a Democratic President using it to deal with climate change would be more acceptable and perhaps more legally legitimate.

This could be a huge consideration in the inevitable court cases surrounding the current administration and a future one in this hypothetical situation.

Secondly, climate change really oughtn’t to be — and indeed isn’t in many countries — a political or partisan issue. There will come a time, inevitably, when all politicians agree on the level of threat and the course of action, as the situation surrounding climate change will become much clearer and much more threatening.

This time could be sooner than we think. There may well be an admission from the right, after the Trump administration, that climate change is a very serious, threatening, and damaging issue. Republicans struck this tone under Bush’s administration, and so it isn’t inconceivable that they could come full circle, back to their original stance.

In this situation, the use of a national emergency would both befit the agreed view of the danger posed by climate change and be counter-active to the idea of creating a more polarised form of politics. It could actually serve to unite politicians around a particular goal — combatting climate change at source and dealing with the problem once and for all.

The short answer, then, to the question is yes. The mechanism is designed to deal with large, imminent, and potent threats to the Union, and so would be well-used to deal with climate change. Such a move would be legitimate and proper, and perhaps even necessary, depending on how the situation unfolds in the next few years.

If the GOP and Trump are going to abuse these mechanisms for their political aims, then the Democrats mustn’t fear to use them as they are intended. Climate change could destroy — and is starting to destroy — the US, through hurricanes, forest fires, and mental health issues.