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United States Climate change Cop21 Paris Climate Conference 2015

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Americans fight climate change despite Trump quitting Paris accord

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US President Donald Trump holds up an executive order on "energy independence," eliminating Obama-era climate change regulations REUTERS/Carlos Barria

US President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris climate change agreement a year ago. But states, towns and individual Americans have taken up the slack, meaning the situation is not as bad as many feared it would be.


On 1 June 2017 Trump said the US would be pulling out of the Cop21 deal.

The nearly 200 countries that signed the accord in Paris in 2015 agreed to curb greenhouse gas emissions so as to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2.0°C above pre-industrial levels.

The withdrawal of the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter was a call to action for some Americans.

“I think in a way it had a galvanising effect,” Vicky Arroyo, the executive director of the Georgetown climate centre at Georgetown Law, told RFI. “Nobody would say it’s a good thing. But, like any shock that can happen to your system, it sort of wakes people up.

"And because climate change is so challenging and involves all of us, it’s really important for a lot of this work to happen at the state and local and company level anyway, so I’m really pleased to say that that work is continuing.”

Arroyo has worked with states that were already tryng to curb their greenhouse gas emissions.

“I fully expected that the states we worked with were going to continue to undertake renewable policies and efficiency policies and, in some cases, carbon cap and trade policies, and to go even further,” she says. “But we didn’t really know whether or not other states and countries might just pull back and say 'Hey, if the largest historical emitter is not doing their share, why should we go forward with this agreement?' And we really haven’t seen that.”

Indeed, Andrew Light, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute and a former state department climate negotiator, says about 2,000 non-federal entities in the US – states, cities, businesses – say they want to meet the US’s pledge in the Paris Agreement, despite the federal government pulling out.

“If you put all these entities together, they would be the third largest economy in the world if they were their own country, so about 10 trillion-dollar economy,” he told RFI. “We’ll see if they are actually going to be able to hit the current US target, which is in 2025. I do think we can get there, or get very close, but at the end of the day, you need the entire US economy participating in this, because it’s such a big problem.”

Trump means business

Trump has certainly kept to his pledge to scrap the Cop21 commitments.

“The policies that the Obama administration had in the most important sectors are being rolled back by the Trump administration,” says Arroyo. She points to the rolling back of the Clean Power Plan, which reduced emissions from power plants across the US, and scrapping clean car standards.

“That really does have an effect. And it frankly makes it harder for the states that are taking on targets to meet them, because that federal baseline is not there.”

French President Emmanuel Macron has said he is confident the US will come back to the agreement, but Arroyo says that’s unlikely to happen.

For now, the rest of the world is moving forward without the US.

“I think the true test of this is actually going to come in a year in a half,” says Light.

The countries that have pledged greenhouse gas emissions for 2030 agreed to consider increasing their pledges in 2020.

“So that’s really going to be the harder test there, whether or not countries use the fact that the US has taken itself out as an excuse not to increase their ambition. My sense of things is that there will probably be some countries that will fall back a bit and I don’t know if we’ll be able to attribute that to what the US is doing or not. And some countries will move forward, and that will be partly because they can, because the clean energy economy is growing by leaps and bounds.”

He is not concerned about the Paris agreement, as it stands now. But the climate itself is not in a good position: “I do not think that the globe, the climate system, can tolerate another four years of the United States staying on the sidelines and not moving forward.”