Climate Alliance Tells World: Trump Doesn’t Speak for U.S. on Climate Change

Posted June 21, 2017

MP3 Interview with Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy with the Union of Concerned Scientists, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

climate

Donald Trump’s June 1 announcement that his administration is withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord has prompted more coverage in the corporate media of the climate crisis than that of several preceding years. Because the Paris agreement stipulates that any signatory nation must wait three years before finalizing its withdrawal, the first day the U.S. can officially withdraw is Nov. 5, 2020, one day after the next U.S. presidential election. However, Trump announced that his administration would do nothing to fulfill previous climate pledges made by President Obama, so it’s not clear how much difference it makes whether the U.S. is officially inside or outside of the voluntary pact, to which all but two other nations in the world agreed.

But a move the same day as Trump’s announcement could offset the effect of policy changes at the federal level to reduce climate pollution. On June 1, the governors of California, New York and Washington state announced the formation of the U.S. Climate Alliance, pledging to uphold the objectives of the Paris Agreement by reducing carbon emissions 26 to 28 percent, compared with 2005 levels by the year 2025. Within a few days, the bipartisan group attracted nine other states and Puerto Rico to join. Later, ten other U.S. governors, the mayor of Washington, D.C. and hundreds of other mayors of U.S. cities declared they would work toward the same goals, without officially joining the Alliance.

Together, the members and supporters of the alliance represent 57 percent of the U.S. population, and contributes 40 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy with the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has worked on climate issues for decades. Here, he explains how the Climate Alliance can exert influence on local and national policy outcomes on climate change. [Rush transcript]

ALDEN MEYER: The U.S. Climate Alliance, which is a state mechanism along with more than 1,200 mayors, businesses, investors and college and university professors, have announced that they are still in the Paris agreement and they will do their utmost to meet the U.S. commitments under Paris. This is a remarkable development. It’s obviously greatly welcomed by countries around the world. Just yesterday the prime minister of Fiji, who is the incoming president of the Conference of the Parties to the framework agreement, named Gov. Jerry Brown of California as his special envoy for state and regional action, and Gov. Brown, along with Gov. Inslee of Washington state and Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon all announced they’ll be going to the next climate summit meeting in Bonn, Germany, in November. Mayor Bloomberg has been very actively working with representatives of cities and mayors around the country on this issue. And so there’s no doubt that there’s been a sharp reaction to President Trump’s announcement of withdrawing the U.S. from Paris, and these mayors and governors and business leaders and others are trying to make clear that President Trump does not speak for America on this issue and that there’s tremendous support for the Paris agreement, for climate action, for the clean energy revolution and all the jobs and economic prosperity that can bring, and they will be taking this message that we are still in to the rest of the world.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Are there things that are going to make it harder or even impossible for states and cities to do what they want to do?

ALDEN MEYER: Well, there’s two issues here. One is, can the federal government get in the way of state action or local action to reduce emissions? In certain areas it can. For example, California has the right under the Clean Air Act to set stronger standards for vehicle emissions than the federal government. They have a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency to exercise that authority. That’s one of the concerns California has, that the Trump administration may try to withdraw that waiver and that would lead to a court fight. The other issue is, who represents the U.S. at these negotiations? Clearly, the states and the cities and the business leaders do not formally represent the U.S.A., – they can’t formally take positions on behalf of the U.S. or negotiate with other countries, but they can send a very important political signal that major elements of U.S. society remain committed to Paris. They will do their best to make sure we meet the emissions reduction commitments we agreed to under the agreement, and that President Trump and his administration represent a short-term aberration in U.S. climate policy and not a long-term trend and that after he leaves office, hopefully, the next president will return to the negotiations and the U.S. will be back in formally as a country.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Are you optimistic about the world’s ability to address the climate crisis before it’s totally too late?

ALDEN MEYER: Well, this is a trend that’s been building steam over many years now, and we expect to see more cities and states and businesses join this loose coalition because these officials recognize that climate change is already having impacts on their communities, on their budgets, on their infrastructure and unless we address the climate crisis, those impacts are only going to get worse. They also understand that the clean energy economy, which is one of the main solutions to climate change, offers tremendous economic development and employment benefits to those who show leadership, which is one of the reasons you’ve seen both Democratic and Republican governors and legislatures, over the last decade or so, adopt renewable standards for their utilities, requiring a larger share of electricity generation to come from renewable sources, and these standards are very popular, including in Republican states, because they bring economic employment and tax benefits to local communities.

So this is a trend we’ve seen building for awhile. I think what President Trump did with his announcement of withdrawal from Paris is galvanize it to come together in a more public and unified way to present a united front that the U.S. is still in as a country, as a society, no matter what the current president says. So that’s welcome. But this trend will continue; it will build, and I think it will be clear to the rest of the world that the U.S. as a whole is still very committed to climate action even if our president isn’t.

For more information, visit Union of Concerned Scientists at ucsusa.org.

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