With UN Climate Deal Trump's Chopping Block, Climate Hopes Turn to States, Cities

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With UN Climate Deal Trump's Chopping Block, Climate Hopes Turn to States, Cities

'The fate of the world quite literally hangs in the balance'

Members of the U.S. delegation at the U.N. climate talks in Marrakesh, Morocco last week announced, "We're still in." (Photo: Takver/flickr/cc)

As the possibility lingers of climate change-denier Donald Trump making the United States a "rogue country" by following through on his promise to ditch the Paris climate accord, some say that cities and states in the U.S. can—and must—take the reins for climate action.

Trump could very well make good on that promise, argues climate activist and author Bill McKibben, as "he's surrounded by climate-change deniers and fossil-fuel insiders who will try to ensure that he keeps his word."

Amidst a "climate emergency," a re-committment to the goals of the Paris deal took place last week in Marrakesh, Morocco, with global leaders noting the "urgent priority" of climate action.

"Indeed, this year, we have seen extraordinary momentum on climate change worldwide," the proclamation signed by nearly 200 countries states. "This momentum is irreversible—it is being driven not only by governments, but by science, business, and global action of all types at all levels."

Yet, as StateImpact Pennsylvania writes, the real estate mogul's election "turned the rock-star U.S. climate delegation into lame ducks." It continues:

The U.S. is a major player at these talks. It's the second largest carbon emitter in the world. And it's also one of the wealthiest. Obama had made tackling climate change a top priority for his diplomatic corps. He pledged $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund last year to help poor countries adapt to climate change.

But no one in Marrakech would admit this landmark achievement could fall apart with a U.S. exit.

Instead, they're now looking to American cities, like New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, and to American states like California, to carry the climate torch if Trump acts on his promise to pull out.

London-based activist Adam McGibbon writes that the U.S. climate movement should fan the flames for such action, noting that

[c]urrently only U.N. member states are signed up to the Paris agreement's parent treaty, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, but observer members are permitted (the Vatican is an observer), and when it comes to the most important fight in human history, no quibbles should be made around technicalities.

There is precedent for this kind of state-level action—after the U.S.'s failure to sign the Kyoto protocol in the 2000s, a student group called Kyoto Now had similar objectives, calling for university campuses to draw up their own climate action plans in line with the Kyoto agreement. The difference between then and now is that the U.S. climate movement is a hundred times stronger, and ready for this fight.

It appears that California is ready to take on the challenge. Reuters reports that the Golden State and Vermont 

are leading the low-carbon charge, and say they will not back down, whatever policies the White House will pursue from January.

California—which would have the world's fifth largest economy if it were a country—is on track to reduce its emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, said its environment secretary Matt Rodriguez.

He and California Senate president Kevin de León told journalists in Marrakesh that the state's economy has grown faster than the rest of the country, largely thanks to its clean technology sector.

"California will not go backwards," said de León. "California will move forward with our (environmental) policies, together with like-minded states."

StateImpacts adds that Robert Stavins, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School and director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements,

says California, Washington, Oregon, and the Northeast states could not make up for an overall federal policy, but could at least keep the Paris Agreement alive.

"Those jurisdictions rather than falling back because of what happened in the election, they're actually going to become more aggressive [with their climate goals]," he said. "If their actions could be recognized within the structure of the Paris climate agreement, that's going to be more than a placeholder for the United States. That could prevent that unraveling that is such a risk."

According to McGibbon, "pushing individual states to lead on climate action could set achievable goals for the movement, allow them to go on the offensive, and demonstrate to the world that America isn't a rogue state on climate—it just has a rogue president."

"Their actions and success in doing this could mean the difference between winning or losing for the climate change movement globally," he adds. "The world is counting on the climate movement in the U.S. to keep climate action going. The fate of the world quite literally hangs in the balance."

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