United states of America defying Donald Trump after Paris climate U-turn
Kevin Hsu notes how states like California and New York are taking forward US climate commitments, as America tries to win back some of its global moral authority that Donald Trump has left in tatters
As word spread that President Donald Trump might pull support for the hard-fought Paris Agreement, the world had a horrifying flashback of 2001, when George W. Bush withdrew the US from the Kyoto Protocol.
But while leaving the Paris climate accord is a disaster for America’s global leadership, it does not mean effective climate protection is out of reach.
Inside the US, action at the state and local levels has become more imperative than ever. As Governor Jerry Brown of California, a state of 39 million people, declared: “If the president is going to be AWOL in this profoundly important human endeavour, then California and other states will step up.”
A federal system of power gives US state and local governments great autonomy, regardless of national policy. California, New York and Washington State have declared a new alliance to fulfil US responsibilities under the Paris deal, and are likely to be joined by many more. Dozens of city mayors have also drawn lines in the sand.
Though Trump tried to portray the Paris Agreement as unfair and inflexible, in reality, each signatory country chooses how to set its own goals and greenhouse gas targets. The US could simply have adjusted its national target if it had concerns about economic impacts, instead of trying to blow up the global framework for climate action.
Most crucially, the decision to leave was deeply unsavvy from a foreign policy perspective: in one stroke, Trump cast Washington DC as the global villain in a planetary drama. This leaves the door open to global leadership for those savvy enough to carry the torch, and Germany, France and China have indicated they will step up.
As Washington’s reputation lies in tatters, it will be all the more important for American companies, state and local governments – and the vast majority of citizens of all political stripes who supported the Paris Agreement – to reclaim a measure of moral authority. A vast wave of domestic dissent, followed by concrete progress, will prove that America is not monolithic in rejecting the global good.
After Bush withdrew from Kyoto, the fight against climate change often felt frustrating. Progress came slowly, in the face of constant obstruction from the American federal government.
Yet organisations, individuals and governments of goodwill focused their energies and endured, making incremental progress and eventually paving the way for the next global agreement.
In response to the latest massive injustice, we likewise cannot tire.
We must continue to join hands across borders and generations, to ensure the health of our planet.
Kevin F. Hsu teaches urban studies and international policy studies at Stanford University