What’s Next For the Paris Climate Agreement?

Paris Climate Painting
A local artists rendering the Paris Climate Agreement, painted when the agreement was first agreed upon in 2015

Last week, President Donald Trump announced that he is pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement. At the time, we shared with you the initial reactions of everyone from the French president to Austin Mayor Steve Adler.

Now that a week has passed and the dust has settled a bit, the questions is – what comes next?

First things first…Despite Trump’s announcement, the earliest the US could leave the Paris Climate Agreement is November 4th, 2020 (which just so happens to be the day after the next US presidential election). This means that the US will technically remain in the agreement for all of Trump’s first term in office. It also opens a window for the US to remain in the agreement, if a new president is elected on November 3rd, 2020.

However, there are still consequences from Trump’s announcement. In order for the Paris Agreement to even kind-of work, every country needs to meet its emissions goals on time. If the US is aiming to withdraw from the agreement (and dismantle programs like the Clean Power Plan) it seems less likely that we’ll reach at least our short-term goal of reducing emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020…That is unless other states, cities, businesses, and regular Americans decide to get involved.

What about renegotiating the deal?

During his speech last week, Trump seemed to leave open a window for possibly reentering the climate agreement, saying that he’s, “willing to immediately work with Democratic leaders to either negotiate our way back into Paris, under the terms that are fair to the United States and its workers, or to negotiate a new deal that protects our country and its taxpayers.”

This idea has been broadly rebuffed by European leaders. Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni said in a joint statement that the Paris Climate Agreement could not be renegotiated.

We Are Still In

In the days since Trump’s announcement, more than 1,000 governors, mayors, businesses, investors, and colleges in the US have said “we are still in” on the Paris Climate Agreement. Together, they represent 120 million Americans and $6.2 trillion. Participants include Google, Apple, Microsoft, Nike, the State of California, the State of New York, and the City of Austin.

Together these signatories have promised to adopt emission reduction goals that can help the US to reach its original goals laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement.

“It is imperative that the world know that in the U.S., the actors that will provide the leadership necessary to meet our Paris commitment are found in city halls, state capitals, colleges and universities, investors and businesses,” wrote the 1,219 signatories of the We Are Still In movement, in an open letter. “Together, we will remain actively engaged with the international community as part of the global effort to hold warming to well below 2℃ and to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy that will benefit our security, prosperity, and health.”

US Climate Alliance

Also in immediate response to Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, the governors of Washington, New York, and California formed the US Climate Alliance. The group has already grown to include 12 states.

The idea behind the alliance is to bring together states to work together in order to help the US achieve its emission reduction goals (26-28 percent below 20005 levels by 2025) under the Paris Climate Agreement, even if we’re technically no longer an official member.

“The ‘America First’ doctrine should put our children first too,” said Oregon Governor Kate Brown, in a press release. “Future generations deserve to inherit a world they can thrive in, not one that plays politics and ignores the fact our climate is changing. Despite the decision by the White House to retreat, it is our moral obligation to fulfill the goals of the Paris Agreement.

So what does all of this mean for Austin?

As we shared last week, Austin remains dedicated to taking action on climate change. Several local elected officials (including Mayor Steve Adler, City Council Member Leslie Pool, Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea) and community leaders (from the Rainforest Partnership, Huston-Tillotson University, SXSW Eco, and Interfaith Power and Light) actually went to Paris when the agreement was first agreed upon in 2015.

Austin Climate Delegation

And in the days following Trump’s announcement to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, Mayor Adler joined up with dozens of others mayors from across the US to declare his continued commitment to meeting the climate goals laid out in Paris.

But how to actually go about doing that?

Energy. One of the biggest ways that Austin has already begun taking action on climate change is by reducing emissions from Austin Energy, our city’s publicly-owned electric utility. Since Austin Energy is essentially owned by all of us (the customers and taxpayers), we have a say in where the utility decides to get its energy. This is done through something called generation resource planning.

Every few years, the city’s Austin Energy Resource, Generation, and Climate Protection Plan is updated. The plan basically serves as a roadmap, determining where Austin will get its energy for the next several years. Will it come from solar, wind, coal, natural gas? That’s what the plan helps to decide.

Over the past few months, a citizen working group has been working on putting together a list of recommendations for the plan, which ultimately needs to be approved by City Council. Their core recommendation is to increase our city’s renewable energy goal to 65 percent by 2027, and to do so while maintaining the city’s current affordability goal of capping rate increases at 2 percent per year and keeping rates in the lower 50th percentile of rates statewide.

But can we do more?

Many in the environmental community are saying yes, especially in light of Trump’s recent changes to US climate policy. A group of local environmental organizations are pushing for City Council to approve the more aggressive goal of 75 percent renewable energy by 2027 and a completely carbon-free utility by 2030.

Our Future Our Power

 

They’re planning to ask City Council to adopt these stronger goals at the next meeting of the Austin Energy Utility Oversight Committee on Monday, June 19th from 9am to noon. You can learn more about how to participate in this effort (supporters are being asked to wear green to the meeting) here>>

Interested in doing more? Here are some other ways to get involved:

  • The Rainforest Partnership is hosting World Rainforest Day on June 22nd. You can learn more about to get involved here>>
  • The Sierra Club is circulating a petition speaking out against President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, with the purpose of collecting contact information for anyone who wants to be involved in a their movement to act on climate change and create a more just future for all Texans. You can learn more here.
  • ATXEJ is hosting a “Power Mapping and Lobbying at City Hall” training on Saturday, June 10th. You can sign up here>>
  • Many local environmental organizations are heavily focused on creating action on climate change, both at the local and national levels. They include the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, 350 Austin, Public Citizen Texas, Sierra Club, ATXEJ. If you’d like to get involved, feel free to reach out and attend one of their upcoming meetings.

 

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