The Trump administration is at the climate conference in Bonn to tout America’s coal and natural gas reserves, but a separate delegation is there to remind diplomats that the US — or parts of it, at least — remains committed to the Paris Agreement.
Lead by the former mayor of the US’s largest city — New York’s Michael Bloomberg — and the current governor of the US’s largest state — California Governor Jerry Brown — this group, called America’s Pledge, claims that the US can still deliver on the emission-cutting promises made under Obama. Several US Senators and governors, all Democrats, were at a kick-off event on Saturday, the cost of which was covered by two billionaires — Bloomberg and hedge funder Tom Steyer. Bloomberg is also demanding that cities and states that want to defy the Trump administration on climate action be given their own seat at the Paris Agreement negotiating table.
One main goal of this coalition will be to assess how well cities and states are doing at cutting their emissions. The launch event on Saturday came with a report assessing the US’s progress so far, and promised another report in 2018 to underscore how these states and cities have made a difference.
The coalition — which, in addition to cities and states, includes businesses, tribes and universities — would make up the third largest economy in the world, the report declares — larger even than Germany or Japan. These actors are pursuing cleaner sources of energy, such as solar power, and are using energy in more efficient ways.
Their combined efforts, the report says, have succeeded in cutting net US greenhouse gas emissions by 11.5 percent between 2005 and 2015, while their economies have grown by 15 percent. At the moment, the coalition is not making enough of a difference to put the US on track to meet Obama’s Paris Agreement goal. But that can change. Doing much, much more of the same, including mandates for renewable energy and electrical vehicles, will help; so will cracking down on methane emissions, which tend to leak from fracking operations, an industry that the Trump administration hopes to deregulate.
The move comes at a time when international support for the Paris Agreement is strong, but when its chance of achieving its goals appears to be slipping away. Syria, the final country to sign the Agreement, did so last week. But numerous reports published to coincide with this year’s conference underscore that countries have not yet made the kind of emission-cutting promises that are needed to keep the world from warming by more than 2 degrees Celsius, which is the Paris Agreement’s upper goal.
A new analysis by the Global Carbon Project, for instance, finds that global emissions may rise again in 2017 after flatlining in 2014, 2015 and 2016. An upturn in China’s economy its largely to blame. This unwelcome news puts the 2 degree target even further out of reach.
Against this backdrop, the coalition of US cities and states is urging diplomats to not give up on the US. Trump will not be able to undo Obama’s entire climate legacy, especially when market forces and state and city-level regulations are helping the US to lower its emissions, the coalition argues.
“I think that there’s an understanding of the American system of government, which is sometimes cumbersome and slow, and frustratingly so, but in this instance it works in favor of climate action,” Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz told Politico. “Whatever the president’s rhetoric, he can’t prevent us from moving forward on clean energy.”
While some attendees heckled Brown for not using his bully pulpit to push for even stronger climate action in California, the coalition was welcomed by Patricia Espinosa, the UN’s climate change secretary, and Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who holds the gavel for this round of negotiations.
“This initiative shows that the campaign for climate action in America remains strong,” Bainimarama told Deutsche Welle. “I also hope that it is a model that can be followed elsewhere in the world,” he added. “The governments alone can’t do all the things necessary to beat climate change. We need everyone.”