Gov. Nikki Haley’s UN appointment is even more reason to worry about the climate

Haley has no foreign policy experience and won’t face climate change reality. Perfect.

SC Gov. Nikki Haley (R) will be nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. CREDIT: AP Photo/Cliff Owen
SC Gov. Nikki Haley (R) will be nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. CREDIT: AP Photo/Cliff Owen

President-elect Donald Trump intends to nominate South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) as ambassador to the United Nations, he announced Wednesday.

Haley has almost no foreign policy experience. During her tenure as governor, which began in 2011, Haley has taken “at least eight” trips abroad according to her home-state newspaper, the Post and Courier. “The trips have been to mainly attend trade shows and meet with potential economic development prospects,” the paper notes.

This stands in stark contrast to the current UN ambassador, Samantha Power. Power covered the Yugoslav wars as a journalist, won a Pulitzer for a book on genocide, attended the Harvard Kennedy School where she led its Human Rights Initiative, and served as a foreign policy adviser for then-Sen. Obama before joining the National Security Council when he became president. Powers is known for advocating moral intervention.

Haley isn’t known for much of anything on the foreign policy front, except that during the president-elect’s campaign, Haley sharply criticized his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country. Haley is herself the daughter of immigrants from India.


(The campaign was not a good time for the Trump-Haley relationship: Trump also criticized her for removing the Confederate flag from the state capitol, which she did, begrudgingly, last year after a white man shot and killed nine people at a historic black church in Charleston.)

In addition, Haley appears worryingly, if not surprisingly, out of step with the international community when it comes to climate change. Most of the world has recognized that anthropogenic climate change is an existential threat to humanity, and the UN has become a major framework for addressing greenhouse gas emissions.

While she has not explicitly denied the veracity of climate change science, in 2013, Haley was accused of burying a report from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources on the challenges climate change will bring to the state. The report, which found that over the next 70 years, average temperatures in South Carolina could rise as much as 9ºF (5ºC) over the next 70 years triggering disease and loss of habitat for wildlife, as well as numerous problems for the state’s economically and culturally important coastline.

More recently, Haley was lambasted for failing to acknowledge the role of climate change in her state’s devastating floods. The 2015 floods killed 16 people in the state and caused billions of dollars worth of damage. During a press conference, Haley noted that it was a “a 1,000-year level of rain,” but failed to make the connection between the increased incidents of “rare” weather events and climate change.

Unfortunately, climate change is not an issue we can choose to ignore.

As the current U.S. envoy to the UN on climate change, Jonathan Pershing, recently said, we are now expecting 5 feet (1.5 meters) of sea level rise by 2050. For context, here is South Carolina’s coast looks like now, and then after 5 feet of sea level rise.

South Carolina’s current coastline (right) and coastline after 5 feet of sea level rise (left). CREDIT: NOAA
South Carolina’s current coastline (right) and coastline after 5 feet of sea level rise (left). CREDIT: NOAA

This same encroachment will take place all over the world — which is why the international community (save, now, the United States) is unified in its concern about climate change.


Trump’s transition team is marked by climate deniers and advocates for leaving the Paris climate agreement. The Heritage Foundation’s Steven Groves, a member of the State Department transition team, has said the United States should depart entirely from the United Nations’ Conference on Climate Change.

It’s unclear how Haley will feel about making the country an international pariah.

In the meantime, signs don’t look good for the climate under the Trump administration.

Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to the South Carolina Department of Environmental Resources. The correct name of the agency is the Department of Natural Resources. ThinkProgress regrets the error.