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No, the US Is Not Upholding Its Paris Climate Agreement Commitments

Despite some encouraging climate action at the sub-national level, the U.S. is not "upholding its commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement," as it is failing to address the issue of international climate finance and is far from meetings its fair share of emissions reductions

Break Free from Fossil Fuels actions set for May 2016 will "reflect the scale and urgency of this crisis in a way that governments can no longer ignore," organizers say.  (Photo: Takver/flickr/cc)

At the end of the Global Climate Action Summit, California Governor Jerry Brown and Michael Bloomberg pronounced that despite Trump’s intransigence the U.S. is still “upholding its commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement”. They were celebrating the fact that sub-national commitments put “the country within striking distance of the 26% reduction in greenhouse gases, by 2025, that the United States promised to hit in Paris”.

Unfortunately, though, despite some encouraging climate action at the sub-national level, the U.S. is not “upholding its commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement”, as it is failing to address the issue of international climate finance and is far from meetings its fair share of emissions reductions. Together these failures mean that the United States cannot really be said to be upholding the agreement, but sub-national actors like DC can change that.

Firstly, the Paris agreement was not just about countries reducing their domestic emissions. Centrally, it was also about rich, developed, climate polluting countries providing funding to help developing countries adapt to and mitigate climate change. For the United States, as the richest country on earth and the largest historical climate polluter, this political and moral responsibility is particularly pronounced.

When Trump pulled out of the Paris climate agreement, the administration also abandoned the US’s pledge to deliver an additional $2 billion to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) — a key funding channel serving the Paris Climate Agreement which helps developing countries adapt to climate change and pursue low-carbon and climate resilient development. Despite America having previously promised action on this front, it has been all but ignored by the U.S. sub-national climate movement.

To make matters worse, even the U.S. pledge under the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce its emissions 26-28% by 2025 is far from its fair share of emissions reductions. According to Climate Action Tracker, which measures and ranks different national climate action plans, the U.S.’ emissions reductions target is “insufficient” and “is not consistent with holding warming to below 2°C, let alone limiting it to 1.5°C as required under the Paris Agreement”. Rather, if everyone followed the U.S. example, then global warming would reach over 2°C and up to 3°C.

Recognizing that many of emissions reductions pledges agreed to under the Paris Accords were deeply inadequate, one of the aims of the agreement was to ramp up ambition over time, not for countries to barely meet already insufficient targets. Thus, Brown and Bloomberg’s claim that the U.S. is meeting its Paris commitments runs contrary to the need to ramp up ambition under the Paris Climate Agreement.

Weak U.S. emission reductions means the rest of the world must make up for the world’s largest historical carbon polluter using even more of the world’s very limited carbon budget. That shifts additional financial costs onto other countries, thus making the U.S.’ broken promise on funding the Green Climate Fund doubly inequitable. That compound injustice is a growing source of tension in the UN Climate Negotiations, which threatens to undermine progress on moving forward with the Paris Climate Agreement.

To be clear, both Brown and Bloomberg deserve to be commended for their leadership in helping push forward action on climate change despite federal resistance. However, their claim that the U.S.is “upholding its commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement” serves to obscure the deep  inadequacy of U.S. climate commitments. Brown as the most visible leader of the sub-national climate movement should be calling for more ambition, not letting the movement rest on inadequate laurels. Bloomberg as a billionaire climate magnate could be mobilizing finance to help plug the gap created by Trump reneging on America’s promised funding.

Sub-national action can still play a powerful role in helping address the U.S.’ climate shortcomings, but it needs to be more ambitious and recognize the need for action on international climate finance. If the U.S. climate movement is to truly uphold the Paris Climate Agreement, it needs to drastically ramp up its ambition on reducing carbon pollution and work to provide funding for developing countries who have least caused climate change but who are most impacted by a problem the United States more than any other country is responsible for causing.

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Alex Lenferna

Alex Lenferna is a South African Mandela Rhodes & Fulbright Scholar at the University of Washington getting his PhD in Philosophy focusing on climate justice. He is a leader of Divest University of Washington, and is writing a book on the fossil fuel divestment movement.  You can visit his website at alexlenferna.wordpress.com

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