In case you missed it, the Trump Administration last week announced that the U.S. would leave the Paris Agreement reached during COP21 in late 2015. And if you’ve really been asleep, then you have missed all the outrage expressed by world governments, NGOs and environmental leaders.
The reality, however, is that the U.S. cannot back out of the global climate agreement until late 2019; and due to the treaty’s requirement that member states give one year’s notice, then the exit would not be completed until November 2020, the same month as the next presidential election. So if a year is a lifetime in politics, then three years is a millennium.
Indeed, the White House’s announcement presents bad optics, and will foment plenty of diplomatic tension over the next few years – but for many companies and advocacy groups here in the U.S. and abroad, it will be business as usual. In fact, Trump’s announcement may actually be the spark many organizations need to accelerate their climate action plans. “Trump may have inadvertently done us a tiny favor this week, because the problem with climate change is that it has always felt so abstract and impersonal and far off in the future,” said John Oliver recently on Last Week Tonight.
A similar outlook was expressed over the weekend by former Vice President Al Gore. Noting that the clean energy sector is creating jobs at a rapid pace, Gore told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the momentum behind the sustainability movement will be hard to stop. “We could have faster progress with presidential leadership, but we’re going to keep moving forward regardless of President Trump,” said Gore. “We are going to see continued reductions in emissions in the U.S., and we’re going to meet the commitments under the climate pact in Paris regardless of what President Trump does.”
The White House may have turned its back on climate action, but here in the U.S., plenty of governors and mayors are ready to fill in that void. Andrew Cuomo and Jerry Brown, the governors of New York and California, respectively, have confirmed that their states will commit to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, and may even exceed their targets. Mayors of at least 211 cities recently announced they will do their part to meet their voluntary climate goals – hardly a token effort as 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas. President Trump may have said he was “elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” but Pittsburgh’s mayor, Bill Peduto, said his city is sticking to the agreement, and recently signed an executive order that maintains the city’s commitment to the Paris climate deal.
Those action plans will be complemented by the efforts of those including Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City who recently announced his philanthropic organization will contribute funds to replace money Trump Administration has withheld from implementing the Paris Agreement.
Many leaders in the private sector say they will move forward on climate action no matter what the White House does or does not do. While some CEOs who have spoken out in opposition to a U.S. exit from Paris will stay on as advisors to the White House, several, including Tesla’s Elon Musk and Disney’s Bob Iger, have cut their ties to the administration.
Trump’s decision to nix any U.S. political commitment to climate change also opens up the door to world leaders who are willing to step up and claim that they are the leader of the free, and climate resilient, world. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has vigorously defended the climate deal as “essential” since last week’s news from the White House. And France’s new President, Emmanuel Macron, whose long, extended handshake with Trump last month launched endless rounds of speculation and memes, is eager to step into the shoes vacated by the U.S. president. Macron has reportedly offered “refuge” climate scientists, offering his country as a “second homeland” as he mocked Trump, saying France will do what it can to “make the planet great again.”
With a president holding on firmly to his base but losing just about everyone else, leaders in the private sector, civil society and government have the opportunity to stand tall in the climate debate. Whether it’s a British department store or shareholders telling an oil company to be accountable, business is doing more than carrying on. Trump’s latest move could not only spark more activism, but concrete action on climate.
Image credit: Government of France