Two Americas are represented at the United Nations’ COP 24 climate negotiations in Poland, where 14,000 country delegates are assembled this week. One America is the 44-person official US delegation representing the Trump administration that wants to pull out of the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep climate change well below 2 degrees C. The other America is “We Are Still In,” a coalition that includes 10 state governors, big and small city mayors, leaders of large corporations, faith leaders, and heads of cultural institutions representing more than half of all Americans, that wants to see a stronger climate agreement.
“We’re here to tell the world that the US business community and America in general takes the risks of climate change seriously and fully committed to the Paris Agreement,” said Lou Leonard, senior vice president for climate change and energy at the World Wildlife Fund, a member of the coalition.
Acting as US shadow delegation at COP 24, coalition members are in Katowice, Poland, to meet with national governments, and lobby for a strong set of rules to operationalize the Paris Agreement, Leonard told me in a phone interview.
Since its launch in 2017 the bipartisan We Are Still In coalition has doubled in size and now includes more than 3,600 representatives from all 50 states, including 2,000 US businesses from Apple to Walmart and nearly 350 universities and colleges. Collectively this represents a bigger economy than any nation other than the US or China.
Members of the coalition have pledged to cut their fossil fuel emissions by improving their energy efficiency, using renewable energy, using electric vehicles, and more to ensure the US meets its commitment under the Paris Agreement—even if the Trump administration pull the US out. Under the agreement the US committed to reducing emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels in 2025. The US is the second largest carbon polluter, after China.
Last week the Trump administration said it would end a carbon reduction requirement for new coal plants. On Monday, at its only official side event at COP 24, it attempted to promote the cleaner use of coal and nuclear power. Ten minutes into the event, more than 100 people in the audience started chanting “Keep it in the ground,” then stood up and blocked the speakers from view.
In another attempt to undermine efforts to cut fossil fuel use, the US, along with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait—four major oil producers —blocked approval of the landmark UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report late Saturday at COP 24. That report warned of the dangers should global warming exceeded 1.5 degrees C. It further stated that to have a good chance of preventing this, global carbon emissions needed to fall by 50 percent by 2030.
The report represents consensus of climate science involving thousands of scientists and diplomats from every country in the world.
High-level government officials will be at COP 24 this week and the IPCC 1.5C report may yet be officially “welcomed,” which means accepted in the diplomatic language of the COP.
Last week delegates heard the Global Carbon Project announce that global carbon emissions likely increased 2.7 percent this year.
No matter what the Trump administration does or fails to do on climate, We Are Still In could drive the US emissions trajectory close to the US Paris target by 2025, said Nathan Hultman, director of the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland.
The centre has been measuring the carbon reduction efforts by We are Still In and other US coalitions. The US is almost halfway to its 2025 Paris target and current reduction commitments will get it to two-thirds by 2025, according to a study by the Center. With additional measures outlined in the study, the coalition could bring the US very close to the 2025 target.
“The message to the international community here at the COP is that the US, despite a counterproductive stance from the administration, is continuing to take action to drive down emissions,” Hultman said in an email.
To make this message loud and clear, the coalition is holding four days of presentations at its “US Climate Action Pavilion” inside the main conference hall. Situated alongside displays from other countries, coalition members will explain the actions they are taking to reduce emissions and inform Americans about the benefits and opportunities of a low-carbon economy.
Inspired by US efforts, nearly 300 leading Japanese companies, including Ricoh and Sony, along with leaders from regional governments, have formed a coalition calling for a decarbonized Japanese society. Mexico and Argentina have also launched their own climate coalitions in recent months to push their national governments to do more.
Similar such coalitions of business, civil society, local sub-national governments, and others will be announced in 2019, said Leonard. And there’s a new global network called Alliances for Climate Action to support multi-sector coalitions efforts to increase their countries’ climate goals.
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