This blog was originally posted on the Green Alliance blog.
Thursday 1 June was a rough day for the US climate movement.
Even though we already knew President Trump would almost certainly withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the Rose Garden speech confirming it still came as a painful blow. How could any political leader recklessly throw away so much?
What added insult to injury was the portrayal of the Paris Agreement and the US energy sector, erroneously suggesting that the US was being asked to do more than its fair share, and that staying in the agreement would lead to blackouts and brownouts and reduce economic production, without leading to significant climate change mitigation.
Fortunately, there are compelling reasons to be optimistic about the future of climate action in spite of and, in some cases, because of Trump’s politically motivated decision.
An unprecedented groundswell of resolve The blowback has been swift and intense. As Climate Action Network Canada’s executive director, Catherine Abreu, wrote so eloquently in Maclean’s magazine, “In an unexpected twist, Trump’s move to withdraw the US from the accord has resulted in the clearest and most coherent call for climate action from every corner of human civilisation yet.” Voices across different sectors, from governments to businesses to well-known individuals, have reaffirmed their support for climate action.
It was clear long before the announcement that it would be hugely unpopular. A majority of voters in every state supported US participation in the Paris Agreement. Among those with the president’s ear, support for staying in came from his daughter Ivanka and son in law Jared Kushner, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil. In what has been interpreted as a plea to Ivanka, luxury jewellery brand Tiffany & Co made a statement in support of the Paris Agreement. CEOs from companies including Apple, Google and Microsoft also urged the president to stay in. Even US coal companies Cloud Peak Energy Inc and Peabody Energy Corp supported staying in.
And the response since the announcement has been huge, with individuals and institutions expressing their dismay. For example, soon after, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Disney CEO Bob Iger both announced via Twitter their departure from Trump’s business advisory council.
This unprecedented groundswell of resolve from all sectors is manifesting itself in a growing campaign called #WeAreStillIn, and its complement #IAmStillIn, involving businesses, universities and local government. So far, more than 1,400 institutions have signed the campaign’s open letter, affirming that they will continue to support action necessary to meet the Paris Agreement. Among those signed up are the mayors of over 140 US towns and cities, and tech giants Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and Google. Last week, MoveOn and its allies delivered a different petition in support of the agreement to the United Nations with 2.5 million signatures, including one million from the US.
The diplomatic consequences of pulling out have been made clear. Italy, France and Germany issued a joint statement indicating that it could not be renegotiated. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) also stated that the historic treaty could not be renegotiated at the request of a single party. And the top American diplomat to China, David Rank, has announced his resignation in response to Trump’s decision. Trump’s eroded diplomatic standing will certainly have implications on issues beyond climate change.
The opposite of what he intended Alongside New York, Washington, and other US states, California has wholeheartedly rejected Trump’s decision. The state has the most ambitious climate goals in North America. Its governor, Jerry Brown, stated, “His effort is misguided. I would even say, this is an insane move by this president.” In an interview on ‘The Daily’ a podcast by the New York Times, Governor Brown indicated that states could do something about climate change but conceded that they cannot act alone to do all that is needed, and that the federal government has to act as well.
It will take almost four years for the US to officially withdraw from the Paris Agreement – bringing us to 4 November, 2020, the day after the next presidential election. It could take a future president as little as 30 days to join again. In the meantime, cities, states, business and civil society will continue to act on climate change regardless.
As Governor Brown said, “Trump may well create the exact opposite of what he intended. And that is an aroused citizenry in America, and aroused nations of the world who will not tolerate this kind of deviant behavior from the highest office in the land.”