Salvaging the Paris Agreement

The stunned disbelief that followed President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement was quickly replaced by pledges and promises from many U.S. institutions on the local, state and regional levels. Though only time will tell the true impact of these collective actions, the initial despair that the U.S. would fail to meet its Paris pledges has been replaced by optimism that these pledges might still be met. It is the intent of this post to the clarify the purpose and goals of the disparate entities that have sprung up in response to Trump’s ill-advised decision.

The June 1st decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement was widely derided by politicians, scientists and concerned citizens alike. The first collective response (June 5th) took the form of an Open Letter posted to the website We Are Still In. The rapidity and breadth of the response, as represented by the signatures of several thousand leaders from America’s city halls, statehouses, boardrooms and college campuses, provided a sorely needed, albeit symbolic, boost that has provided impetus for concrete action.

By July, some of this impetus was channeled into America’s Pledge — an initiative by two early and vocal critics of Trump’s energy policies — Governor Jerry Brown (CA) and former Governor Michael Bloomberg (NY). The idea behind America’s Pledge is to formalize the aspirations behind the signers of the We Are Still In pledge. Spearheaded by the Rocky Mountain and World Resources Institutes, America’s Pledge “will compile and quantify efforts from U.S. states, cities, businesses and other actors to address climate change in alignment with the Paris Agreement.” Under the auspices of America’s Pledge, Brown and Bloomberg intend to present their findings at COP23 in Bonn in the fall of 2017. Ostensibly, reporting emissions reductions by the various non-Party actors behind America’s Pledge signals a commitment to stabilize the Paris Accord until a more favorable Administration is elected.

Gov. Brown has his fingerprints all over another initiative — the Under2 MOU. Though founded as a partnership between California and Baden-Württemberg prior to COP 21 (December 2015), it has acquired extra significance since Trump’s action. The Under2 Coalition is a diverse group of sub-national governments around the world (representing 1.2 billion people and $28.8 trillion in GDP) that have set ambitious targets to combat climate change. Under2 entities can work with their national counterparts to go above and beyond their Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) climate targets for the Paris Accords.

Following the G20 meeting in July, it is clear that the fundamentals of the Paris Accord are still intact, with the US being the sole significant dissenter. The real debate now centers on whether Trump’s actions will prevent the US from reaching the 26–28% reduction in CO2 below 2005 levels by 2025. Initial publications indicated that meeting these goals would be impossible without efforts on the Federal level; others have suggested that these goals would be meet purely on the basis of the plunging costs of solar and wind power and the growing use of natural gas as a replacement for coal. One thing is fairly certain: that the prospects for meeting or exceeding these targets are enhanced by the combined outrage of the American public and the commitment by the non-state actors to America’s Pledge and Under2 MOU. The climate change movement has arrived.