The United States of America (USA) is the second largest contributor of global greenhouse gases (GHG) after China, and has the highest contribution to historical GHG emissions into the atmosphere. The Paris Climate Agreement, that was signed eighteen months ago, by 195 countries, including the USA, has come into a fresh controversy beginning June 2017 after U.S. President Donald Trump decided to withdraw from this Accord.
In fact, the USA under President Obama, got a winning deal from this agreement and he could make the Accord work in favour of the U.S. Many experts feel U.S. got committed to the agreement by not promising much commitments. It committed for a reduction of emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025 but all its actions at the moment would have only reduced emissions by 10%.
Still, having the U.S. in the Paris Accord was important, as because the world’s fight against climate change would be at a great loss without this country joining in. However, as expected by most of experts and people who follow the climate change debate, the current president of the U.S. Donald Trump has just decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Trump has decided to junk Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) in order to support fossil fuel under guise of his ‘America First Energy Plan’.
The CAP, that was intended to improve energy efficiency and reduce methane emissions by 40-45%, especially from the fracking industry, has now been done away with meaning the atmosphere will be burdened with an additional 1,000 million tons of greenhouse gases measured in carbon dioxide equivalent terms. The Clean Power Plan that was supposed to reduce emissions from power sector by 32 per cent and was blocked by the Supreme Court of America has now been put under review by the Trump administration. Junking it would lead to an addition of 200 million tons of climate destructive gases by 2025. There are many more measures on the anvil that would offset majorly the climate fight of the world.
A shock to the world
The world leaders, civil society and others reacted with both anger and shock to Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord. The Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) expressed its regret over Trump’s action and said it was ready to engage in dialogue with the United States government regarding the implications of this announcement.
The UNFCCC said that the Paris Agreement is aimed at reducing risk to economies and lives everywhere, while building the foundation for a more prosperous, secure and sustainable world. It enjoys profound credibility, as it was forged by all nations and is supported by a growing wave of business, investors, cities, states, regions and citizens. We are committed to continue working with all governments and partners in their efforts to fast forward climate action at global and national levels.
European leaders immediately responded with more affirmation about climate action. In a joint statement, France, Germany and Italy said that they regretted the United States’ decision to withdraw from the accord, but affirmed their strongest commitment to implement its measures. They also encouraged all their partners to speed up climate action. In response to Trump’s willingness to re-join if more favourable terms were offered to U.S., these leaders strongly refused to budge. “The agreement cannot be renegotiated as it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economics,” said the EU leaders.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that “the fight against climate change is ‘unstoppable’ and nations should stick to the landmark Paris accord,” adding, “I am ‘deeply convinced’ that US ‘states, cities, the business community, the civil society will also remain engaged, will bet in the green economy’. In fact the US citizens responded to Trump with anger and their commitment to the fight against climate change.
A vibrant citizen driven initiative Climate Scorecard Project reacted to Trump’s withdrawal saying, “The rest of the world is aware that US President Trump does not get the Paris Climate Agreement. His decision to withdraw the United States from the Agreement betrays a lack of knowledge, not just about climate change, but about what it means today to be a country in an inter-dependent and inter-connected world”.
It refuted some of Trump’s claims that supposedly prompted his going away from the Paris Accord. “Trump states that America will lose jobs through the Paris Agreement, but studies show that America will in fact gain jobs through shifting to the cleaner energy sources needed to reach the Agreement’s global goal, such as solar and wind. For example, the US natural gas industry employs 362,000 workers, solar 374,000 and wind has 102,000 jobs, according to an Energy Department report. Coal companies employ 160,000 workers—a number which has been in decline for decades,” stated the Climate Scorecard Project.
According to Deon Terblanche, head of the World Meteorological Organisation’s atmospheric research and environment department, in worst case scenario the global temperature rise of about 0.3 degree Celsius can be attributed to US withdrawal. Under the Paris deal, agreed in 2015, nations have vowed – voluntarily – to keep worldwide temperature rise to ‘well below’ 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels and ‘endeavour to limit’ it even more, to 1.5 degree C.
American cities’ strong message to Trump
Todd Stern, the former US special envoy for climate change from 2009 to 2015, and who had led the U.S. negotiating effort from the start of the Obama administration through and beyond the Paris talks, wrote – a day before Trump announced the withdrawal – in the atlantic.com, “Pulling out of Paris would cause serious diplomatic damage. The countries of the world care about climate change. They see it as a profound threat. They recognize there is no way to meet that global threat without an effective global regime. And they understand that the Paris regime cannot work in the long run if the world’s indispensable power has left the table. The president’s exit from Paris would be read as a kind of “drop dead” to the rest of the world”.
There are a dozen U.S. cities that are part of the global C-40 group on climate change. These cities account for 25 percent of U.S. population and 30 percent of U.S. GDP. In December last year, apprehending well about Trump’s exit plans, these cities had promised to stay with their climate action in a meeting at Mexico.
The Governors of California, Washington and New York,immediately after Trump pull out from Paris Accord, decided to form an alliance called United States Climate Alliance to provide a platform to all states interested to coordinate on climate action. These three states alone consist of about 20 per cent of US population and GDP.
The Mayors’ Pledge
Immediately after Trump’s decision, mayors of 61 U.S. cities promised, in an open letter, to meet commitments agreed to under the Paris Accord. They reiterated their resolve to intensify their efforts to meet their cities’ current climate change goals, push for every new action to meet the 1.5 degree Celsius target. They vowed to work together to create a 21st century clean energy economy. This was signed by mayors from cities including Burlington, Vermont, Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta, New York, Austin, Texas, Salt Lake City, and Pittsburgh. They declared, “The world cannot wait — and neither will we.”
Climate Mayors’ Agreement
As on June 12, till when the author could collect updates for this article, a total of 292 mayors from across the U.S. had joined the Climate Mayors Agreement. This list includes the country’s 10 largest cities that are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, Dallas, and San Jose. These mayors represent more than 60 million Americans from 42 states.
The mayors said, as reported in curbed.com, “We will continue to lead. We are increasing investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. We will buy and create more demand for electric cars and trucks. We will increase our efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, create a clean energy economy, and stand for environmental justice. And if the President wants to break the promises made to our allies enshrined in the historic Paris Agreement, we’ll build and strengthen relationships around the world to protect the planet from devastating climate risks”.
China, the EU and India, are the other three biggest emitters of carbon dioxide besides U.S., and they have all showed their renewed commitment to continue with the Paris Agreement. Trump’s withdrawal seems to have made all others more committed towards the Accord. However, the response that the Americans themselves have given is tremendous.
The U.S. cities have certainly shown a new path to cities in all other countries to understand the importance of climate action and dedicate their energy for a greener urbanisation and world.