Trump Holds the US Back While Other Countries and American Cities Take Action Against Climate Change

President Trump’s denialism caused cities to push for more ambitious climate action, but at this rate the Paris pledges won't keep us below temperatures necessary for survival.

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Nov 27 2017, 3:45pm

Image via Flickr.

This is an opinion piece by Johanna Partin, Director of the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance

The UN-led climate talks in Bonn, Germany, are showing beyond a shadow of a doubt that the world is clearly in one corner on the climate issue and the Trump White House is in the other, alone. Every single nation in the world has agreed to act in concert on the biggest security threat facing humanity—the one holdout, Syria, has now signed the Paris agreement.

So Syria’s in, but the U.S. is out, at least in Trump’s mind. But what shone through in Bonn, like the brilliant sun powering the new clean economy, is that Trump is the outlier. Not only has every nation represented in Bonn ratified the Paris climate agreement, but the overwhelming American subnational presence in Bonn—from states and cities to CEOs and nonprofits—is fully committed to climate science and climate action. Global collaboration came to the fore in Bonn showing that Paris is becoming a real-world reality.

It’s only the Trump Administration, whose pro-fossil fuel panel presentation at Bonn was interrupted by mass protest, that is refusing to get on board.

The timing of American obfuscation couldn’t be worse, considering the recent news that the world is set to see greenhouse gas emissions climb by 2 percent in 2017 and again in 2018, which means more warming. This report, which set a fitting stage for former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to put a public health warning on fossil fuels (e.g. a label at gas stations saying, “what you pump into your tank may kill you”), follows last month’s news that the world reached record-breaking GHG levels in 2016, higher than at any point in the past 800,000 years.

If nations match cities’ leadership, and similarly aim for 100 percent renewable energy, near zero carbon, and zero waste, then the world would be well on its way towards a more livable future.

Everyone in Bonn knew full well that America is responsible for a huge chunk of these emissions, with some of the highest per capita emissions in the world, which makes President Trump’s denialism even more confounding.


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The leading highest-ambition cities, in response, called on delegates in Bonn to act immediately on this burgeoning humanitarian crisis, noting in a strongly worded letter at the start of the conference that nation states were not doing nearly enough. The letter, sent by the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, called on nations to ratchet up of ambition and action and match what many cities are doing globally to kick carbon to the curb.

As a result of this and other examples of local government leadership, there were calls in Bonn—most notably from COP23 President, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama—to push for more ambitious climate action, and to include local governments as official parties in the climate negotiations going forward. (UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa has agreed to consider.)

If nations match cities’ leadership, and similarly aim for 100 percent renewable energy, near zero carbon, and zero waste, then the world would be well on its way towards a more livable future. As we stand now, however, the Paris pledges are insufficient and fail to keep us below the temperature that most scientists have indicated is necessary for survival.

This is the moment that will either make us or break us, as no other threat out there will have a comparable impact to our health, economy and security.

At present, Paris commitments let the planet warm well over 3 degrees Celsius more than what they were pre-industrialization. We really should be capping our warming to 1.5 degrees. That’s if we want humanity to survive unscathed well into the next century—a task that is tenable provided nations take up the challenge called for by carbon neutral cities.

Bonn, then, and any global climate conference that follows, is about getting governments from the United States to the United Arab Emirates to do as cities do. To set a 0-100 agenda in days not decades, months not millennia, seconds not centuries. To drive towards zero waste, zero carbon and 100 percent renewable energy.

This is the moment that will either make us or break us, as no other threat out there will have a comparable impact to our health, economy and security. And cities can’t do it alone, no matter how much subnational leaders laudably supplant federal governments at UN conferences. We need nation-states to take a lesson from their cities and start leading.

As the global rulebook for the coming years of climate action gets finalized, heads of state should heed what’s happening in their own cities. Because that’s what going to not just save us, but drive us to thrive.

While global leaders are busy debating the future of the planet, you can do your part by getting your local officials to switch to 100 percent renewable energy for the Sierra Club's Ready for 100 campaign.