A year ago today, U.S. President Donald Trump signaled his intent to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement. Yet global climate commitments are stronger than ever. How is that?
Trump’s decision has spurred much more climate action than what would have been activated by the Paris Agreement alone. In one year, we’ve created new avenues and opportunities but also, a deeper sense of responsibility across different sectors of society. During my years working on climate change, we’ve given responsibility to our national governments to act on climate change. Now, in the United States and around the world, cities, states, investors and companies have taken it and stepped up.
The democratization, disaggregation and devolution of action on climate has been empowering; I’ve had conversations with companies and investors who are now approaching this challenge with real interest. It has been unlike anything I’ve seen in nearly a decade working on climate.
So although Trump’s decision a year ago was a dire mistake — weakening the United States economically and diplomatically — it has opened more doors than it has closed. On the anniversary of the U.S. decision to leave the Paris Agreement, here are three reasons for hope.
1. Macron’s leadership reinvigorated France — and the rest of the globe
French President Emmanuel Macron has stepped up as the global leader of science and the climate movement.
When Macron was elected in May 2017, he began taking responsibility for the international climate agreement born in France’s capital city by supporting the science and commitments needed to fight climate change. At the One Planet Summit in Paris in December, he awarded 18 climate scientists, mostly from the United States, multimillion-dollar grants to relocate to France for the rest of Trump’s term.
In April, when Macron visited the U.S., he addressed Congress saying, “there is no Planet B,” referring to the importance of protecting the Earth against climate change for future generations. His leadership is an important counterweight to the lack of United States’ action on climate change.
2. New crop of leaders taking charge, making commitments
Still, apart from the United States’ own climate commitment, the U.S. has in the past supported the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat, which manages the Paris Agreement process and negotiations. With Trump reneging on that commitment as well, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg stepped in.
Bloomberg said in April that he would write a US$ 4.5 million check to cover this year’s U.S. commitment to the UNFCCC secretariat. Bloomberg said that he wouldn’t fund next year’s commitments because he hopes that Trump will change his mind and rejoin the Paris Agreement.
Other leaders are still planning ahead. In September, California Governor Jerry Brown will host the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco along with Bloomberg, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, and Indian business leader Anand Mahindra. Leaders across sectors will gather to discuss how to accelerate commitments to climate action and whether local and regional governments and businesses can demonstrate genuine progress toward meeting global goals.
3. From McDonald’s to Apple, companies are responding to public opinion
Companies are expected to announce their own commitments at the summit in California — and we’ve already seen some changes this year.
In April, Apple announced that for every old device recycled through its Apple GiveBack program through the end of the month, the company would make a donation to Conservation International. Also, in May, the company announced a joint venture to commercialize technology that eliminates direct greenhouse gas emissions from the aluminum smelting process used to make its devices.
Last year, Walmart, the world’s largest retailer and a longtime leader in corporate sustainability, announced its goal to eliminate 1 gigaton of greenhouse gases from its supply chain by 2030. This year, the company expanded its commitments to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain with the hope of creating a ripple effect across all its suppliers.
In March, the world’s largest restaurant chain announced it would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 150 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2030. The first restaurant company to set such a target, the company plans to expand efforts to source beef sustainably, to promote renewable energy, and to reduce waste, using targets for each sector approved by the Science-Based Targets initiative.
Companies aren’t required by any regulation to cut their carbon emissions, but the signal from the public to act on climate has been stronger than any regulation. Companies are realizing that their bottom line and their future sustainability depends on the extent to which they can address climate change — and now they’re acting on it.
One more thing
A crucial part of the solution to climate change is all around us: nature. A recent study found that “regreening” the Earth would provide more than one-third of the action needed by 2030 to stabilize global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. To that end, Conservation International is working on implementing one of the largest tropical forest restoration projects in the world in Brazil and partnering with governments to raise the ambition in their climate targets. Meanwhile, the Global Climate Action Summit in California will bring “non-state actors” — cities, states, companies, and investors — into the fold.
The progress we’ve seen over the last year has confirmed what climate wonks have long known — that nature is an indispensable ally in the fight against climate change.
Shyla Raghav is Conservation International’s climate change lead.
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