World Leaders Ponder US Role in Fighting Climate Change

World Leaders Ponder US Role in Fighting Climate Change

6:00am Nov 28, 2016
The Paris Agreement and United States presidential election were important topics at the UN Climate talks in Marrakech, Morocco in November. --- photo by Justin Catanoso

Nearly 200 world leaders met in Marrakech, Morocco earlier this month to discuss how to move forward in the fight against climate change.

Wake Forest University professor Justin Catanoso attended the UN climate conference, and recently talked to WFDD’s Keri Brown about what he saw and how Trump’s views on climate change are playing on the world stage. He tells Brown that leaders around the globe have decided they’ll keep working with or without the support of President-elect Donald Trump.

Interview Highlights: 

On how world leaders at the conference reacted to the results of the U.S. presidential election: 

World leaders really reacted right away to it very cautiously and, in some ways, optimistically.  They set aside for a moment this acknowledgment that Donald Trump had said during the campaign that climate change was a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese to steal our manufacturing jobs, and so the initial reaction from world leaders was one of hopefulness – that surely that was campaign rhetoric.

This sense of optimism began to disappear when Donald Trump made clear that he intended to pull the United States out of the historic Paris Agreement that we had last year and that he wasn’t backing away from his sense that climate change was a hoax and that he even appointed an avowed climate change denier as the potential head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Myron Ebell, and so world leaders saw that and they just became resolved that they were not going to go backwards; that they were going to move ahead with climate action no matter what the United States government said or who the new president is.

On how the Paris Agreement took center stage at the conference:

It’s the first time that 195 nations in the world agreed to do something tangible about climate change and every single country volunteered to do some level of carbon burning reduction, or reducing their deforestation or agreeing to grow trees back, but everybody agreed that climate change was real and that it needed to be fought very aggressively.

The entire point of the Marrakech meeting, the one that I just got back from, was to create a rulebook, an operational manual if you will, for how the Paris Agreement will play out or be implemented, how countries will be held accountable for their voluntary pledges. And the Trump election has caused a lot of controversy over what the U.S.'s role would be because the Obama administration has been a leader in climate action over the last eight years.

On whether the United States can pull out of the Paris Agreement: 

Actually, it can’t. The Paris Agreement has been ratified by enough nations, including the U.S. that it has entered into the force of international law. What that means is that countries can withdraw from it, but you can’t request a withdraw for at least three years and then it takes another year to actually pull out. That’s the entire length of a presidential term.

Now what Donald Trump can do is ignore the pledges that the United States has made to reduce its carbon emissions. But even that gets fuzzy because the U.S. is already on a track to meet its carbon reduction goals by 2020 and 2025. So even if he figures out a way to burn a lot of oil, gas and coal over the next four years, the U.S. is going to be kind of a nonfactor going forward as it applies to the Paris Agreement. They’re just not going to be in a leadership role anymore.

On who else outside the United States has an impact on climate change: 

The fact of the matter is a lot of the action is at the state level and it’s at the city level. If you were to pull together the world’s 50 largest cities, they’re responsible for some 70 to 75 percent of carbon emissions and what that tells you is that mayors have a stronger role to play in climate action than heads of state, and in some ways more incentives.

So if you think about a city like Beijing that is literally choking on its own industrialization, their incentive to reduce their carbon emissions is enormous and they’re heading in that direction. When you think of a city like Los Angeles, it’s the same thing.  We also have corporations that are moving in this direction as well and it’s being led by Walmart. Walmart sees every dollar saved on energy production as sort of a dollar to their the bottom line, so our major companies are also moving toward greener economies and greener energy sources.

*Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

 

 

 

Support your
public radio station