Two years after President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) lambasted that decision but said that significant progress on climate change is being made despite the administration’s “open and proud hostility to taking climate change seriously.”
Murphy, who participated with several environmental leaders in a 29 May briefing, called the 2-year mark “an ignominious anniversary.” Trump announced on 1 June 2017 his controversial decision to plan to withdraw from the accord.
“It is a disaster for the United States to remove itself voluntarily from the international conversation around global warming pollutant reduction, even for 2 years,” Murphy said. “We don’t have 2 years to sit on our hands. We don’t have 2 years to fail to lead [on this issue]. Every single month that goes by that we don’t make the decisions necessary to save this planet from existential harm is a month that we get closer to the point of no return” from the impacts of climate change.
The agreement, which was adopted by 195 countries in 2015, aims to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C. It also calls for boosting climate change adaptation measures, among other efforts. An October 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that limiting global warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy and other systems that “are unprecedented in terms of scale.”
Assuming that Trump formally notifies the United Nations in November that the United States will be withdrawing from the Paris accord, the earliest effective date of that withdrawal is 4 November 2020, the day after the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Building a Climate Coalition
Murphy said that action needs to be taken on climate change despite the administration’s intransigence on the issue.
“Our focus now is on making sure that we build a political coalition in this country such that no one ever gets elected president of the United States again who isn’t 100% committed to the issue of climate,” commented Murphy.
“It is just heartbreaking to me that this administration is so, so hostile to the issue of climate change that they feel it necessary to use as a litmus test for selections to top administration posts the outright denial of science on this important issue,” he said. “So we’ll continue to fight the president’s attacks on Paris and attacks on climate science every single day of the week.”
Standing Up to the President
Murphy said that it is “good news” that the Democratically controlled House of Representatives “is willing to stand up to the president on climate.” He pointed to the House’s action on the issue, including its recent passage, mostly along party lines, of the Climate Action Now Act to require the country to remain a party to the Paris agreement.
Although there are not enough votes to pass the legislation in the Senate, Murphy said that “at least it paints for the American people a picture of the big difference that exists right now on this issue in Washington.”
He added that there are a number of Republican senators who understand that it is bad policy and bad politics “to follow Trump down this hard line on climate.” However, Murphy said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) so far has kept them in line.
Progress Despite the White House
Murphy and others at the briefing also noted progress on climate change at state and local levels and in the private sector. Murphy said, for instance, that many companies in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce either are climate leaders or are moving toward “more responsible” climate policy, although the chamber itself has been “the chief climate denial cheerleader for most of the last decade.”
Mindy Lubber, CEO and president of Ceres, a sustainability advocacy organization based in Boston, said that despite Trump’s plan to withdraw from the Paris accord, many people and groups in the country are still striving to adhere to the goals of the agreement. “As unfortunate as it was that our administration chose to suggest we are not in the Paris accord, I would argue much of the country believes we are. Perhaps not literally. They are not the ones that signed the piece of paper. But they are in there looking at getting to the goals of the Paris agreement, and I think we are making progress despite an administration [that] has tried to do otherwise.”
Lubber pointed to the We Are Still In coalition of about 3,800 organizations in the United States—including states, cities, and businesses—committed to meeting the Paris goals. Ceres is one of the groups coordinating the coalition effort, along with the World Resources Institute (WRI) and other environmental and civic organizations.
“Americans Have Suffered”
Andrew Light, a senior fellow in WRI’s climate program and former senior adviser on climate change at the U.S. State Department, said at the briefing that the biggest impact of the United States planning to withdraw from the accord is that “Americans have suffered.”
Light said that America once was “the undisputed global leader on aggressive climate action” but that now the United States has lost influence with some other countries—including countries where the United States has critical security interests—that are looking to withstand climate impacts and reduce the causes of climate change.
The plan to withdraw from the accord “is hurting American security, and it is hurting American competitiveness overseas in what is now a multi-trillion-dollar market that’s been created by the pledges that countries have put forward under the Paris Agreement,” he said.
—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer