On cli­mate, the U.S. now stands alone


In Bonn, Ger­many, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of coun­tries around the world have gath­ered for the an­nual UN Cli­mate Change Con­fer­ence. The mood might be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent this year, how­ever, be­cause just a sin­gle coun­try stands apart by not par­tic­i­pat­ing in the re­cent land­mark Paris cli­mate agree­ment

Em­bar­rass­ingly, that coun­try is the United States.

To be fair, un­til re­cently, we were one of three in­ter­na­tional hold­outs. Just last month, Nicaragua — pre­vi­ously ab­stain­ing be­cause they found the stan­dards too lax — agreed to sign on. And this Mon­day, the war-torn na­tion of Syria an­nounced that it too would join the rest of the world in im­ple­ment­ing the agree­ment.

Iron­i­cally, it was Amer­i­can diplo­matic lead­er­ship that made the agree­ment pos­si­ble in the first place. In De­cem­ber 2015, more than 200 coun­tries in Paris con­vened for the ne­go­ti­a­tions, which had been on­go­ing for some time. The same prob­lem had been hold­ing up cli­mate talks for years: How could an agree­ment be built in such a way that each coun­try in the world had to do not too much — but also not too lit­tle — to solve a prob­lem that tran­scends bor­ders and af­fects ev­ery­one around the world in dif­fer­ent ways?

The true in­no­va­tion of the Paris agree­ment was the mech­a­nisms for both flex­i­bil­ity and ac­count­abil­ity that it em­ployed to solve this prob­lem. Each coun­try -—large and small, rich and poor — com­mit­ted to fight­ing cli­mate change by en­act­ing its own unique plan to cut green­house gas emis­sions. Then, every five years, all par­ties would re­con­vene to show their progress to­ward these goals; the tar­gets were not legally bind­ing, but the the­ory was that a sort of ‘in­ter­na­tional peer pres­sure’ could serve as an en­force­ment mech­a­nism and would in­cen­tivize in­creas­ing those stan­dards over time.

China and the United States made a sym­bolic ges­ture by rat­i­fy­ing the agree­ment to­gether in Septem­ber 2016, but Pres­i­dent Trump had dif­fer­ent plans. In June of this year, he an­nounced our uni­lat­eral with­drawal from the agree­ment, os­ten­si­bly be­cause its (again, legally non-bind­ing) terms were not fa­vor­able to the United States. In re­al­ity, this ap­pears to have been noth­ing more than red meat for his base and an­other step in his quest to dis­man­tle every piece of his pre­de­ces­sor’s legacy.

This would be less painful if Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion was do­ing some­thing — any­thing — to ad­dress the na­tional se­cu­rity, eco­nomic, pub­lic health, or other real and mea­sur­able con­se­quences of cli­mate change. Un­for­tu­nately, our cur­rent cli­mate and en­ergy pol­icy ap­pears all but stuck in the past.

EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt only seems to be in the news when he’s meet­ing with oil ex­ec­u­tives or tak­ing tax­payer money for ex­pen­sive com­mer­cial flights (in­clud­ing one $36,000 whop­per to Italy). Mean­while, the only group ben­e­fit­ting from En­ergy Sec­re­tary Rick Perry’s power plan for the United States are coal com­pa­nies — like that of Trump backer Bob Mur­ray, whose com­pany stands to be sub­si­dized by the higher prices paid by mil­lions of Amer­i­can con­sumers. From rolling back the Clean Power Plan to ap­prov­ing new pipe­lines, the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion seems de­ter­mined to roll back every one of the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to fight cli­mate change and pro­mote clean en­ergy.

But while Amer­ica is los­ing out on in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in clean en­ergy, the rest of the world isn’t. China and In­dia have over­taken us in this sec­tor that is al­ready pro­vid­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of jobs to Amer­i­cans, and could be pro­vid­ing far more. Lead­ers in these coun­tries un­der­stand that just as fos­sil fu­els dom­i­nated the last cen­tury, this cen­tury’s drivers of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment will re­volve around so­lar, wind, and other clean en­ergy tech­nolo­gies — and that who­ever de­vel­ops the best tech­nolo­gies first will ben­e­fit from ex­port­ing that tech­nol­ogy around the world.

Though the United States govern­ment may stand alone in ‘opt­ing out’ of in­ter­na­tional ef­forts to fight cli­mate change, there is hope be­yond the fed­eral level. Gov­er­nors, may­ors, CEOs, and pri­vate cit­i­zens around the coun­try are set­ting their own goals to limit emis­sions, es­sen­tially try­ing to repli­cate the pos­i­tive ef­fects of the Paris cli­mate agree­ment. The #IAmStil­lIn cam­paign has been one suc­cess­ful method for re­cruit­ing states, cities, com­pa­nies, and com­mu­ni­ties to ac­tion, but there are many more.

Even in an ab­sence of fed­eral-level lead­er­ship, in­di­vid­ual Amer­i­cans are ea­ger to show the world that we aren’t back­ing down from the fight against cli­mate change. And that is any­thing but em­bar­rass­ing.

© Copy­right 2017 Graham F. West, dis­trib­uted ex­clu­sively by Ca­gle Car­toons news­pa­per syndicate.

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