At the beginning of this month, President of the United States Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord -- a landmark agreement between 195 nations in 2015 that set targets for emissions reductions and combating the effects of climate change. While the official withdrawal process won’t be complete until November of 2020, this means that the United States will join two other nations, Syria and Nicaragua, as the only countries around the globe that will not be members of this agreement.
President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement means that the US, the world’s largest economy and second largest emitter, will no longer be at the forefront of the fight against climate change, or the clean energy revolution. As part of the withdrawal, President Trump has also decided to withhold $2 billion in commitments for the Green Climate Fund, a fund set up to help advance climate-related projects in the developing world.
These developments pose a serious threat to global efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, before it becomes too late to act. Immediate and drastic action is needed from all countries around the world, if we are to avoid surpassing the 2℃ increase in average global temperatures. This threshold is the point at which climate scientists believe that the effects of climate change will begin to be catastrophic, and largely irreversible. Pulling the United States out of such an important agreement could seriously hinder global efforts to avoid climate disaster.
Thankfully, federal subsidies for renewable energies and technologies that were enacted by the Obama Administration are expected to last through to 2019. However, if these subsidies and incentives run out, it could impact US investment in clean energies and technology, hurting its position as a global leader in these fields.
Fortunately, it appears that state and local governments are picking up where the federal government has failed. The governors of three states -- California, New York, and Washington -- have joined together to form the U.S. Climate Alliance, committing to uphold the provisions of the Paris Climate Accord. Several other governors have already expressed interest in joining this alliance.
The private sector, too, is picking up the slack. After President Trump’s announcement, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, and Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, both announced their intention to withdraw from their positions on White House advisory boards. Tech giants such as Adobe, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Intel have all indicated their commitment to the terms of the Paris Agreement, despite the federal government’s withdrawal. In fact, just days after the President’s announcement, Apple announced a $1 billion bond for financing clean energy and environmental projects.
Tech giants aren’t the only businesses taking action; Walmart plans to stand by its commitment to remove one gigaton of emissions from its supply chain by 2030, and Citigroup intends to move forward with its plans to “finance $100 billion in clean energy, infrastructure, and technology projects.”
The actions taken so far by state and local governments, as well as the private sector, are a very promising start. However, it will be crucially important that more local governments and private entities step up and commit to strong emissions reductions and environmentally responsible policies, especially now that the federal government has chosen to take a back-seat on climate change. What can we do as individuals to make sure these important changes are made?
I would urge you to contact your local, state, and federal government representatives and let them know that sustainability and climate change is a serious issue for you. In the private sector, don’t be afraid to advocate for environmentally-friendly changes (and improvements) to current business practices, whether they be to make the switch to sustainable packaging, to encourage carpooling or biking to work, or upgrading to energy-efficient electronics.
In the grand scheme of things, these actions may seem small, but as the old adage goes, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” We have made very significant improvements in sustainability, clean energy, and clean technology over the last decade or so, and we can’t afford to stop our progress now. This planet is the only one we’ve got, so protecting it and being environmentally responsible is up to each and every one of us -- with or without the support of the federal government.