U.S. Moving Forward on Climate – Despite Trump’s Backpedalling

UN Climate Change Conference Shows Progress
in Implementing the Paris Climate Agreement

Marking the next step on the way to international implementation of measures to limit global warming and other climate impacts of increased greenhouse gas emissions, the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP-23) for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was held in Bonn in November 2017. 

This was the first time that all 197 parties to the Convention had met together and that a small-island state (Fiji) had presided over the conference.  And, significantly, it was the first time that the U.S. government did not host a pavilion at the annual conference (the only developed country not to do so).  In fact, the U.S. government was viewed more as an impediment than a facilitator, and it was up to an unofficial delegation of state governors, businesses, and environmental organizations to show the remarkable progress that is being made in the U.S. at the state and local level on climate issues. 

For most of the nations present, the Fiji spirit of togetherness prevailed with an agreement to promote a “Talanoa” dialogue, reflecting the Fiji culture of inclusive, participatory, and transparent dialogue.  The purpose of Talanoa is to share stories, build empathy, and make wise decisions, characteristics that would be good for the Trump administration to recognize.  A “Bula [Welcome] Center” was established for the official delegates, and a separate dedicated “Bonn Center” was provided for the civil society representatives.  With the Fijian cultural impetus, the conference provided the first formal dialogue between civil society organizations and national governments.  Reflecting this dialogue, a new wave of climate action was announced from not only countries, but also cities, states, regions, business, and civil society.

The Fiji spirit of togetherness prevailed at COP23

From the official statements made at the conference, it is clear that most nations have now committed to policies and actions leading to a climate goal of “well below 2 degrees C by 2100.”  The Trump Administration’s announcement that the US would withdraw from the Paris Agreement “unless a better deal could be reached” has not slowed implementation of the Agreement.  No other nations have expressed interest in renegotiating any part of the Paris Agreement and the US stands alone today as the only country not to have signed.  In fact, the rapid pace of ratification of the Agreement, which was put in place by November 2016, has allowed the inclusion of some early actions before 2020.  Given that the overall targets will be difficult to meet, all countries have been glad to see this increased pace of implementation.  The world is moving on.

Emphasizing this point, and in another first, an unofficial US delegation represented state governments, businesses, and non-governmental actors at the meeting. A “U.S. Climate Action Center” pavilion provided a venue for the promotion of climate-friendly policies and clean energy by these subnational groups.  The Center was an initiative of We Are Still In (https://www.wearestillin.com/us-action-climate-change-irreversible).  The We Are Still In alliance consists of hundreds of companies pledging sustainability and climate action, working to decouple economic growth from emissions.  The Center provided a focus for a positive message of change emphasizing state, city and business actions.  During the conference, more than 100 U.S. leaders held 44 events in support of the Paris Agreement.  The program and speakers can be found at the web site above.

Center events included a presentation, by UN Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change Michael Bloomberg and California Governor Jerry Brown, of a new America’s Pledge (https://www.americaspledgeonclimate.com/) showing how states, cities, and business climate-related actions are keeping the U.S. on track to meet its Paris carbon reduction goals. More than 2,500 U.S. cities, counties, and businesses have signed the pledge.  Four governors attended (Brown of California, McAuliffe of Virginia, Brown of Oregon, and Inslee of Washington), and six other governor’s offices were represented. All of the states represented are members of the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of 14 states and Puerto Rico.  The Alliance governments are now working closely with Canada and Mexico on a climate dialogue.

Coal and other fossil fuels were on the agenda in both venues, with the official U.S. delegation hosting a panel on the clean and efficient use of fossil fuels and nuclear power, noting that “it is undeniable that fossil fuels will be used for the foreseeable future, and it is in everyone’s interest that they be efficient and clean”( https://www.voanews.com/a/climate-talks-bonn-us-delegation/4107686.html).  The unofficial U.S. group focused on moving beyond coal to clean energy, and decarbonizing the US power grid, challenging the economic case for the coal industry, and noting that “phasing out U.S. coal in line with the Paris Agreement would be good for consumers, investors, and the wider economy.”

D. James Baker was the longest serving Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (1993-2001) and worked closely there with EPA on ocean and coastal protection. He is currently a consultant for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization for the Global Forest Observations Initiative, helping developing countries reduce emissions and become more climate-resilient. Most recently, he was the Senior Strategic Advisor and Director of the Global Forest and Land-Use Program at the Clinton Foundation. He also served as the President and CEO of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and was a scientific advisor to former Vice President Al Gore on the Oscar-winning film An Inconvenient Truth and is the author of the book Planet Earth: The View from Space, published by Harvard University Press.

Picture of Jim Baker

For more information about America's continued engagement in the 
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change go to We Are Still In

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