The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Despite President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, nonfederal entities are saying they will continue to fight climate change. Twelve states and Puerto Rico have formed the U.S. Climate Alliance, committing to uphold the global climate accord, and leaders of 211 cities have declared themselves “Climate Mayors,” promising to work toward the accord’s goals. Many of those same governors and mayors are among some 1,200 signatories, including more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies and 170-plus universities, vowing to cut emissions (subscription) in an open letter released Monday to the international community.

“The Trump administration’s announcement undermines a key pillar in the fight against climate change and damages the world’s ability to avoid the most dangerous and costly effects of climate change,” said the letter. “Importantly, it is also out of step with what is happening in the United States.”

Going by the name “We Are Still In,” the coalition called itself “the broadest cross section of the American economy yet assembled in pursuit of climate action.”

On Tuesday, Bloomberg Philanthropies said it would work with the coalition’s governors, mayors and business leaders to quantify greenhouse gas reductions. Although the organization does not expect to send a formal submission to the United Nations, it will develop a “societal nationally determined contribution” (subscription).

Some legal scholars have warned that, depending on their nature, actions taken by states in the U.S. Climate Alliance and “We Are Still In” coalition could raise constitutional questions under the foreign affairs pre-emption doctrine or Compacts Clause (subscription).

The first test case may be Hawaii, which on Tuesday became the first state to pass state-specific legislation that claims to legally implement portions of the Paris Agreement.

“Climate change is real, regardless of what others may say,” said Hawaii Governor David Ige. “Hawaii is seeing the impacts first hand. Tides are getting higher, biodiversity is shrinking, coral is bleaching, coastlines are eroding, weather is becoming more extreme. We must acknowledge these realities at home.”

Ige signed Senate Bill 559, which “expands strategies and mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide,” and House Bill 1578, which aims to “identify agricultural and aquacultural practices to improve soil health and promote carbon sequestration—the capture and long-term storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide to mitigate climate change.”

Post­–Paris U.S. Climate Change Efforts: What Happens Now?

In his Paris Agreement exit speech, Trump promised to “begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris accord or really an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States.” But what concessions the United States could gain from a renegotiation are unclear, and attempts to forge a new deal may not have willing participants. In a joint statement issued an hour after Trump’s speech, Italy, Germany and France said “we firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies.”

Greenwire reported that legal experts say a future president could get the United States back into the Paris Agreement, from which the earliest official exit date would be November 4, 2020, in just 30 days under a process by accession (subscription).

In the meantime, at least one former Environmental Protection Agency head, William Reilly (who serves as chair of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Advisory Board), suggested that the United States should make a “clean break” from international climate talks.

“I think that the worst possible outcome here is to announce an intended withdrawal from the agreement but to continue to participate in the deliberations of the parties,” said Reilly, adding that the United States might attempt to “reduce the commitments or aspirations that are agreed to in future conferences of the parties” (subscription).

Fact Checkers Question President Trump’s Paris Agreement Exit Speech

President Donald Trump never mentioned science in his speech announcing America’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement (subscription). In an interview on MSNBC on Tuesday, U.S. Environmental Protection head Scott Pruitt, a vocal critic of the pact, appeared to suggest that science played no role in the exit decision, insisting that the focus of discussions about a withdrawal was “on the merits and demerits of the Paris accord.”

Multiple media have highlighted inaccuracies in Trump’s presentation of the accord. The Washington Post noted that Trump’s case against the agreement—that it would hurt the U.S. economy and that it treated the United States unfairly—ignored the benefits that could come from tackling climate change, including potential green jobs, and misrepresented the nature of the agreement. Specifically, emissions reduction pledges reflect non-legally binding nationally determined plans and the reality that developed countries, on a per capita basis, often produce more greenhouse gases than developing countries.

A video posted by The New York Times on its website questioned many of Trump’s claims, one of which was that the agreement would in effect transfer coal jobs to China and India. In fact, the voluntary Paris agreement doesn’t stop Trump’s loosening of restrictions on coal, a U.S. industry in decline in large part because of domestic access to cheap and abundant natural gas—a just released U.S. Energy Information Administration report says coal consumption for electricity sank last year to its lowest level (subscription) since 1984. Although China is building relatively less-polluting coal plants because it lacks such access, it has canceled more than 100 coal plants and expects to peak its coal use before the 2030 date set forth in a pre-Paris climate agreement with the United States. In its Paris pledge, India committed to obtain 40 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) took issue with the president’s statement that even if the Paris agreement were implemented in full, it would produce only a two-tenths of 1-degree Celsius (0.4 degrees Fahrenheit) reduction in global temperature by the year 2100. Although Trump did not name his source, Reuters reported that he was referring to a MIT study finding that if countries honored their Paris pledges, global warming would slow by between 0.6 degree and 1.1 degrees Celsius by 2100—not two-tenths of 1-degree Celsius. The point of the article, according to one of the author’s co-authors, was not to diminish the contribution of the agreement but to illustrate that further actions would be needed to avert catastrophic warming.

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