The annual COP meetings have been gathering both urgency and direction in the last two years. At the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015, all world nations (besides Syria and Nicaragua) agreed to aim to keep global temperature rise this century well below 2°C (compared to pre-industrial levels).
On 1 June this year, however, President Trump reneged on the US’s commitments made during the Obama administration, declaring ‘we’re getting out’. Syria and Nicaragua have both since promised to sign up. As a result, the beleaguered official US delegation at COP23, derided for their awkward advocacy of ‘clean coal’, arrived at the convention looking isolated and backward.
Step in UN Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change – Michael Bloomberg. Alongside Californian governor Jerry Brown, the two men formed the ‘We Are Still In’ declaration last June following Trump’s announcement. The goal was to ensure that American states, cities and business are not left behind, and to demonstrate that the US continues to be a world leader on climate change by adhering to the requirements of the Paris Agreement.
As non-state actors, Bloomberg and Brown were unable to represent US interests in an official capacity at Bonn. But multi-billionaire Bloomberg is a man who knows how to host a party. At the privately-funded Climate Action Pavilion on the outskirts of COP23, he and Brown launched ‘America’s Pledge’ this Saturday to a packed and expectant crowd. While inaction continues on a Federal level in the US, Bloomberg and Brown’s goal before 2025 is to reduce US economy-wide emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent compared to 2005 levels.
Why America’s Pledge matters
For logistical reasons, COP23 is being held in Bonn, Germany. The actual ‘host’ nation in 2017, however, is Fiji – a country severely affected by sea level rise, the increased intensity of cyclones and warmer temperatures associated with climate change.
In his welcoming remarks, the Fijian prime minister and incoming COP president Frank Bainimarama embraced the presence of the US sub-delegation stating that, ‘without the non-state actors, we will fall short of the objectives set by the parties.’ Perhaps referring to the rift that President Trump created by abandoning the Paris Agreement, he referred to Talanoa – the word in many Pacific languages for ‘honest constructive dialogue.’ He invited all parties to embrace it during the convention, adding, ‘the Talanoa spirit is not just about being nice to everyone; although respect is essential.’
Since June this year, Bloomberg and Brown have been in dialogue with businesses, tribes, city mayors, universities and states across the US. They now have more than 2,500 signatories for the We Are Still In declaration. The America’s Pledge Phase 1 Report, released to coincide with COP23, details how Bloomberg and Brown now plan to wield their signatories’ power to tackle climate change, and act beyond the auspices of the Federal government.
And power they have. China and the United States are the only two countries whose GDP is higher than the support Bloomberg and Brown have already garnered from combined US non-state actors since June. When they took to the stage this Saturday morning in Bonn, it is no surprise that many of the 197 Parties of the Paris Framework were present and listening.
What does America’s Pledge offer?
In the Climate Action Pavilion, Bloomberg said of renewable energy that, ‘thanks to the falling price of coal and solar, coal no longer makes any economic sense.’ Innovation in vehicle batteries and solar energy generation is credited in the America’s Pledge report with reducing their respective cost since 2010 by 80 per cent.
‘The false promise of jobs coming back in coal,’ he went on say, ‘is a sad fraud on miners who need help to transition to a new economy so they and their families can have a future, rather than being a pawn in a political reality show.’
Earlier in proceedings at the pavilion, the powerful We Are Still In signatory member Walmart had been invited to showcase. Laura Phillips, the retail giant’s senior vice president of sustainability, said that in the last ten years ‘investments in renewables have saved [Walmart] a lot of money.’ Besides strengthening business goals, Phillips explained that the $210billion-multinational has found that by installing onsite solar energy and investing in the climate ‘it is also good for our communities.’
“The false promise of jobs coming back in coal is a sad fraud on miners who need help to transition to a new economy”
Governor Jerry Brown spoke to the incremental ‘ratchet mechanism’ built into America’s Pledge and the wider Paris Agreement. Full implementation of the current Paris Agreement would still be estimated to cause warming between an extremely dangerous 2.8°C, and a catastrophic 4.5°C.
‘Is it enough? No!’ Brown said about America’s Pledge. ‘We are not at the point where we are reducing emissions globally, and we have to do a lot more.’
This first report corroborates the opportunities for deeper emission reductions by US states, cities and businesses. These will be analysed further in the more comprehensive Phase 2 Report in 2018.
Does America’s Pledge go far enough?
Not everyone at the Climate Action Pavilion thought that America’s Pledge had filled the void left by Trump’s rejection of the Paris Agreement. Brown was heckled repeatedly during his speech by protestors, including Native American groups, over continued fracking in California.
Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, struck a conciliatory note at the end of proceedings. Her presence, alongside COP president Bainimarama, was an affirmation of the work America’s Pledge has already done. She concluded by applauding its efforts and reaffirming that ‘the climate change agenda can not be delivered by governments alone.’
“The world is on the road to hell, unless we make a radical turn towards a more sustainable path”
On Monday 13 November, Brown reappeared emboldened and even more brazen to say, ‘the world is on the road to hell, unless we make a radical turn towards a more enlightened, sustainable path.’ A report published overnight, the Global Carbon Budget, has shown that after five years of slowing or no growth in CO2 emissions, projections for global emissions in 2017 predict a renewed increase of two per cent.
Brown has also announced a ‘Global Climate Action Summit’ for September 2018 in San Francisco. Meanwhile, Bloomberg poured scorn on the disastrous pro-fossil fuel groups sent out to bat by the official US delegation in the afternoon – calling their advocacy of coal at a climate summit, ‘like promoting tobacco at a cancer summit.’
At COP23 there are two very different American delegations, with very different ideologies, motivations and agendas. Yet in spite of how far the two US delegations seem to be drifting, common ground and honest dialogue must soon be found in the global effort to confront climate change. After all, in the rather refreshing words of Bainimarama, ‘we are all in the same canoe.’
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