The United States is considered a world leader in matters of climate change, but will lose that position if President-elect Donald Trump follows through with his campaign pledges, according to White House science adviser John Holdren. “If the United States were to step back from its leadership position in climate change, China would happily assume the mantle. We should want to stay in the leadership of the global battle against climate change,” Holdren said in an interview published Wednesday in Scientific American
As the world’s second largest emitter, behind China, the U.S. was integral in drafting the Paris Agreement, the world’s first international climate change accord to apply to developed and developing nations. However, Trump has threatened to pull the U.S. out of the accord, which has entered into force and currently has 118 members.
Holdren, who has served as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for nearly eight years, said China’s stance on climate change has evolved over the past few decades. “I have seen the transformation in the understanding of Chinese leaders about the reality of climate change, the damage it’s already doing in China. Absolutely no question that they are sincere in their efforts, in their desire to address climate change,” Holdren said. “China is a great nation. They want to be a greater nation. We’re a great nation. We want to be a greater nation. We should not be voluntarily surrendering leadership in the matter of major global challenges.”
Holden also addressed recent talk that the incoming administration would like to cut NASA’s Earth science program, which includes its climate monitor efforts. “That’s crazy. NASA’s mission has always included looking down as well as looking up. There’s nobody in the government that can do what NASA can do in terms of Earth observation. Part of the problem is there are some folks who confuse Earth observation with endorsement of a particular set of climate policies that they don’t like,” he said.