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Trump Loves Coal, But a 19-Country Coalition is About to Phase It Out Completely

The Cop23 climate negotiations were basically everybody leaving the U.S. to do whatever it wants to do with fossil fuels all alone.

by Andrew Steer
Dec 15 2017, 6:30pm

Image via Flickr.

This is an opinion piece by Dr. Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the World Resources Institute.

Now that Syria has joined the global climate deal, the U.S. stands alone. It is the only country in the world without a firm national commitment to address climate change.

This position is all the stranger in the light of a new climate report from the U.S. government itself, which suggests this failure to engage will hurt American citizens, as well as others. It paints a grim picture of recent climate trends: this decade has been the hottest on record in the United States and around the world; global sea level has risen by eight inches over the past century, and will likely rise another one to four feet this century. And rising temperatures and extreme weather events are putting America’s agricultural community and its economy at serious risk.

Does this mean that the U.S. was absent at the Cop23 climate negotiations in Bonn? Not at all. The U.S. pavilion was bigger and livelier than ever (but this year led exclusively by sub-national governments and private sector in the lead), with dozens of events showing innovation and committed action. U.S. governors, mayors, senators and business leaders gave a loud and clear message that the current administration does not represent the majority of Americans’ views on climate action. The America’s Pledge report, for instance, finds that more than 2,500 actors remain committed to climate action—together, they represent a group of people equal to one-half the U.S. population. Their key message: “We’re still in!”

A coalition of 19 countries, led by the UK and Canada, announced they would completely phase out the use of coal.

In contrast, the official U.S. team put on one high-profile official event, featuring the largest coal company in the U.S., advocating access to coal for all.

Meanwhile a coalition of 19 countries, led by the UK and Canada, announced they would completely phase out the use of coal. It is these countries that are the right side of history. The cost of solar and wind power has plummeted in recent years, making it competitive with fossil-fuel prices in many markets.


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So too the 320 global corporations (of which 57 are headquartered in America) which have announced that they would set science-based targets to decarbonize their supply chains at a pace the science requires. And the 7,500 cities that have joined the Global Covenant of mayors, committing to ambitious mitigation and adaptation actions. These actors are all part of a recognition that moving to a low-carbon future will be good for the economy as well as good for health, poverty reduction and the planet.

True leaders know they cannot accept limitations based on past performance. They understand the imperative to break new ground. The window of opportunity is short. 2018 will be a test to see who truly understands the stakes and who will step up to lead the world to a better, safer and more prosperous future.

According to just-released data from WRI, 49 countries, including the United States, have already peaked their greenhouse gas emissions.


The low-carbon revolution is well underway, but it not yet at the scale and pace required to solve the problem. The latest emissions report from UN Environment finds a yawning gap between the emissions reductions that countries have collectively pledged under the Paris agreement and what’s needed to keep global temperature rise within safe levels.
The key question moving forward is how to scale up thousands of brilliant innovations so that a tipping point is crossed and progress at scale accelerates and becomes unstoppable.

This will require coalitions of unusual players—bringing together leaders across political affiliations and at all levels of government, along with businesses, faith groups, universities, community organizations and many more. These leaders need to work together to build momentum and spur greater ambition. Take, for instance, the NDC Partnership, which brings together 77 countries and institutions to accelerate ambitious climate and development projects to support vulnerable countries. Tipping points are crossed when decision-makers find the needed change irresistible from a political, economic, and social standpoint.

Finance must also play a crucial role in accelerating momentum. Investment in renewable electricity is now around $300 billion a year, more than 2.5 times what’s invested in fossil fuel generation. Multilateral development banks are increasingly shifting investments toward climate-friendly project, with commitments surpassing $27.4 billion in 2016. However, these fall far short of the full scale that’s needed.

True leaders know they cannot accept limitations based on past performance. They understand the imperative to break new ground. The window of opportunity is short. 2018 will be a test to see who truly understands the stakes and who will step up to lead the world to a better, safer and more prosperous future.

While global leaders are busy debating the future of the planet, you can do your part by getting your local officials to switch to 100 percent renewable energy for the Sierra Club's Ready for 100 campaign.