America’s Role In Global Climate Action


In 2015, the world’s nations gathered in France to hash out a landmark climate deal – the Paris Climate Agreement. This month, they got together again, to make sure the agreement’s emission reduction pledges are not just being met, but are growing stronger as time goes on.

Here’s why that matters. 
The meeting going on right now is in Bonn, Germany and is called COP 23, which stands for the Conference of Parties. They meet under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which basically just works to mitigate the effects of climate change.

World leaders, businesses, and activists meet each year for the COP. The Paris Agreement was created during COP 21, a historic accomplishment for the climate community because it was the first time that nearly all the world’s countries came together to announce their intentions to do something about climate change and make pledges to reduce emissions… but much more work needs to be done. 

Even if every country meets the emission pledges laid out in the Paris Agreement, the world will still see 3 degrees Celsius of warming. This is well above the 1.5 degree threshold that scientists warn we can’t pass without experiencing the worst effects of climate change.

So what does the Paris Climate Agreement do about this? The agreement includes a mechanism for each country’s emission reduction goals to be reviewed and then ratcheted up. However, it doesn’t really include the rules or specifics for making that happen. This is what negotiators at COP 23 have to figure out. As The Guardian reports, the groundwork for this needs to be laid out now before being finalized in 2018.

As Rainforest Partnership Executive Director Niyanta Spelman (who is also serving as an observer delegate in Bonn) explains in a recent blog post, “If Paris was the promise that we were looking for, that there was a global resolve to take on climate change, that the world would come together to adopt an unprecedented, historical agreement, then two years later, COP23 in Bonn is where countries start focusing on the how of the implementation.”

Where does the US fit in?
President Donald Trump made headlines in June when he announced that he is pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement. However, under the terms of the agreement, the US can’t technically withdraw until November 4th, 2020 (which just so happens to be the day after the next US presidential election).

Because of these intentions, America’s official involved in COP 23 has been minimal. As National Geographic reports, David Banks (Donald Trumpʼs special adviser on energy and environment) said increased coal, gas, and oil use is a “global reality.” Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg replied to this in a statement, saying, “Promoting coal at a climate summit is like promoting tobacco at a cancer summit. It’s also a denial of what’s happening in the U.S.—half of all American coal plants have been retired over the past six years.”

Bloomberg is one of the leaders behind the “We Are Still In” coalition, which is made up of more than 1,000 governors, mayors, businesses, investors, and colleges in the US have said “we are still in” on the Paris Climate Agreement. Many members of this coalition traveled to Germany for COP 23, even opening up a 27,000-square foot U.S. Climate Action Pavilion outside of the main event venue.

We Are Still In

The coalition also used COP 23 to release the first phase of the America’s Pledge report, an effort to quantify the emission reductions efforts of non-federal actors in the US.

Here are some of the report’s key findings:

  • The cities, states, and businesses that have pledged their support for the Paris Agreement represent over half of all Americans and $6.2 trillion of the US economy. In fact, if the coalition were its own country, it’d be the third largest economy in the world (behind the US and China).
  • The solar and electric vehicle industries are really taking off in the US – the cost of solar power and vehicle batteries have both dropped by about 80 percent since 2010
  • Falling renewable energy prices, innovations, and actions by cities/states/businesses have helped to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 11.5 percent between 2005 and 2015. The economy grew by 15 percent during that same period
  • Despite all of this, current non-federal efforts are not enough to meet the US emission reduction goals laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement. Over the next year, the We Are Still In coalition and the America’s Pledge initiative will look and see what else can be done by non-federal actors to achieve these goals, but as they wrote in the report, “we cannot underscore strongly enough the critical nature of federal engagement to achieve the deep decarbonization goals the US must take after 2025.”

Where does Austin fit in?
As an environmentally-conscious community, Austinites have long been participating in global climate conversations. At each COP, there are opportunities not only for official government representatives to get involved, but also lots of activities and events for nonprofit organizations and community activists.

This year, the Niyanta Spelman, the executive director of the Rainforest Partnership (a local nonprofit organization) attended COP 23 as an observer delegate. You can listen to her insights into the COP with the video below.

You can also watch video interviews that Spelman conducted while at COP 23 below or read her recap blog here.

Local religious leaders from Texas Impact also made the trip to Germany this year for COP. You can read through their blogs posts sharing their experiences here>>

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