Since Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement there have been tears, fears and protests. Whether a calculated decision carefully engineered to garner him further support or a badly understood statement made as a show to the rest of the world that his leadership could- and would- shake things up, it now remains as an action of the past, something that appears irreversible. So what really is the impact of his decision, and how committed is the rest of the US to upholding Trump’s anti-climate stance?
Perhaps predictably, immediate withdrawal has not been possible. If the Trump administration had wanted to completely all-guns-blazingly exit the UN climate agenda once and for all, they could have cut the cord through quitting the UNFCCC itself. Instead, they chose to pull out of the Paris agreement, a process taking over 4 years and resulting in a continuation of their relationship with the UN until after the next presidential election in 2020. Whilst Trump’s flashiness has definitely made a statement, political analysts argue that his (or his advisors’) move was in fact a little like a double bluff; appeasing his followers who refuse to believe in climate change/ major contributors to America’s fossil fuel industry whilst also refraining from completely cutting off contact with one of the major environmental protocols in the 21st century world.
The official US stance is that the Paris agreement was unfairly biased towards the US, and that is should be renegotiated in order to cut them a better deal. However whilst the official position of the US at the recent COP23 conference in Bonn was to negotiate terms and hold back from decisions on climate policy, representatives were involved actively enough to shut down talks on possible financial compensation for climate related loss and damage. In this way, the US can be seen as involved in climate decision making only in its own best interests; shutting down anything that doesn’t directly improve their own situation yet not committing to meeting any of the targets set for it.
Despite this negative presence, the US as whole was surprisingly well represented in Bonn. A large cross section of society, ranging from businesses to city officials and college students, still managed to attend the conference through purchase of their own tent under the movement ‘We Are Still In’. This campaign was continued after the COP in the signing of the Chicago charter on the 4 December which incorporates the pledges of over 25 city mayors to commit to exceed the targets set for US emissions under the Paris agreement and to advance at least one specific climate action in their community area (e.g. renewable energy, green infrastructure, sustainable transport).
This attitude was not simply restricted to action at the COP; Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project ran a 24 hour live TV broadcast from 4-5 December outlining the devastating impacts of climate change. Initiatives such as these are supported by many US institutions and citizens with a the underpinning message that not all of America has ‘given up’. Arguably the measure of US commitment to Paris- and in fact any future climate protocol- is down to whether environmental governance and bottom up management approaches can in fact top the government imposed approach most people are used to- if the US wants to remain committed, it is now up to the people.
OCS Media Team
The latest in climate science, policy, perspectives and more from the OCS team.