The 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 23) to the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is taking place this week and next (November 6-17) in Bonn, Germany. Despite Donald Trump’s desire to withdraw the United States from the Paris Accord, he is not able to do so officially until 2020, and thus the U.S. is represented in Bonn this week, albeit by a weak party with no voice, for fear of rousing Trump’s ire.
As I reported in my post of June 1st, all but two nations on the entire globe, Nicaragua and Syria, had signed the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. Since then, both Nicaragua and Syria have signed the agreement, but Donald Trump has announced his decision to pull out at the earliest possible date, making the United States the only nation on the entire globe that will not participate, at least not at the federal level or officially, in trying to save the planet from the greed and ignorance of mankind. We stand alone, and on the wrong side of the fence.
The delegation to Bonn from the U.S. is led by two men: Thomas A. Shannon, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and Trigg Talley, Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change. Both men have shown themselves in the past to be committed to addressing issues of climate change, and Mr. Talley served as the head of U.S. delegation during three years of preparatory conferences for the Paris Agreement. However, this week their hands are tied, and they are ashamed and embarrassed at the stand their nation has taken. According to one delegate, “It’s as though the US negotiators have been dipped in aspic. They are scared stiff of upsetting the White House. They try to be constructive, but they don’t want that known.”
Thomas Shannon (left) and Trigg Talley
The White House has confirmed that the US will promote the “efficient” use of coal, nuclear energy and natural gas as an answer to climate change in a presentation to delegates in Bonn. Trump has vowed to revive America’s ailing coal sector but this message is likely to provoke outrage on the global stage. “We are seeing 196 parties trying to move forward and put the Paris accord into effect. They don’t want to let the US impede that progress,” said David Waskow of the World Resources Institute.
Another delegate said: “We have lost the leadership the US used to provide. They have the best negotiating team and they are usually put forward strong arguments, but in talks this year, they have been quiet. You can feel they are a little lost. It must be so hard for them now. I sympathise.”
But there is a bit of a bright spot …
But the U.S., or at least parts of it, was also represented in another way. According to an article in The Guardian …
Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement has created a vacuum into which dozens of state, city and business leaders have leapt, with the aim of convincing other countries at the international summit that the administration is out of kilter with the American people.
The counter-Trump movement in Bonn is being spearheaded by Jerry Brown, the governor of California, and Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York. Brown, in particular, has assumed the role of a de facto US leader, scheduling more than two dozen events to agitate for renewable energy and emissions cuts to combat what he has called an “existential crisis”.
A US Climate Action Center has been set up for delegates in Bonn, representing the climate change priorities of several thousand US cities, states, tribes and businesses. Corporate giants Mars, Walmart and Citi are expected to push for action on climate change. The center is in lieu of an official US presence – for the first time, the US government won’t have a pavilion at the annual UN climate summit.
At the razzamatazz opening of the alternative US centre on Thursday, California state senator Ricardo Lara told the audience: “Greetings from the official resistance to the Trump administration.” Pausing for cheers and applause, he said: “Let’s relish being rebels. Despite what happens in DC, we’re still here.”
A coalition of 14 US states, including California and New York, have said they are on track to meet the US target of a 26-28% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, compared to 2005 levels. The goal was set by Barack Obama’s administration as part of the Paris agreement between 195 nations to avoid dangerous global warming of more than 2C.
Brown has raised his profile in recent months by meeting with China’s leadership to discuss clean energy technology and becoming a special adviser for states and regions during the Bonn talks.
The efforts of Brown, Bloomberg and others is definitely heartening, is a step in the right direction, and sends a loud and clear message to Trump that he does not, in fact, represent our nation in his decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord. But ….
Governors such as Brown and Cuomo cannot officially take the place of the US president in UN climate talks. Their emissions pledges do not supersede the official US position and, in any case, the 14 committed states only have influence over around half of total US emissions. Without national leadership, the US is in danger of missing its emissions reduction goals and will jeopardize international efforts to stave off 2C of warming, which would lead to elevated sea level rise, intensified droughts, heatwaves and wildfires.
By what right, I ask, does one ‘man’, Donald Trump, determine the destruction of the planet? And to what end does he make this decision? For the jobs of a few thousand coal miners whose jobs will be gone, despite Trump’s best efforts, within five years at the latest, for there is little market for coal anymore? For a handful of jobs, he is willing to risk the lives of the 7.442 billion people who call this planet ‘home’?
We, the United States, are rapidly becoming a pariah in the world, thanks to only one person. The world has already waited too long to address the issue of climate change, and it is imperative that every person on the earth step up to the plate and do his/her part immediately. And yet, here in the U.S., life goes on – we mine coal, start up new oil pipeline projects without proper environmental studies, drive our cars wherever we wish, keep our homes toasty, pollute our cities with antiquated factories, emitting more Co2 every day. And we are the only country left on the planet whose leadership is thumbing their noses at the rest of the world and sending the message “we don’t care”. Shame on Donald Trump, and shame on the U.S.