By Ami Gagne

With extreme weather floods in India and hurricanes in the Caribbean, climate change seems to be pushing the Earth to an irreversible tipping point. Much ink has been spilt over the United State’s rejection of the 2015 Paris Agreement, but outside of the Trump administration, there is good news on the horizon.

US attendees of the 2016 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, Morocco say “we're still in and fighting for climate justice” Photo: John Englart (Takver)
US attendees of the 2016 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, Morocco say “we’re still in and fighting for climate justice”
Photo: John Englart (Takver)

New data shows there is hope for meeting the Paris climate target to limit the rise in global temperature to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. In the past, growth in the global economy inevitably generated an increase in energy use, meaning more fossil fuels were burnt, and more carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere. But that link has now been broken.

Global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) have been slowing down since 2012 due to the decrease of GHG emissions from power holders such as the EU, Russia, Japan, the U.S. and China. Despite the growth of the global economy, recent data from the EU Joint Research Centre shows that global carbon dioxide emissions have stalled for three consecutive years.

To avoid reaching the 2°C threshold that climate scientists have identified as necessary to avoid catastrophic warming, global carbon pollution must peak at 2020. With carbon pollution holding steady, that climate goal is now within reach.

This is largely due to China, our new (and unlikely) global climate leader. For example, earlier this year, China cancelled plans for more than 100 new coal plants, replacing them with cleaner renewable energy sources like hydroelectric and wind power. China’s shift away from fossil fuels and implementation of greener alternatives has played an important part in keeping its carbon pollution steady. As a result, China’s CO2 emissions have flattened out since 2013. This sets China five years ahead of its international commitment, as far as its 2020 international commitments for energy intensity and clean energy.

While China is impressively ahead of schedule, the U.S. is desperately falling behind, despite a strong start. Obama-era policy shifts to prioritize clean energies meant U.S. carbon pollution fell below 1993 levels.

But by June 2017, the Trump administration withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement. Not only that, the administration repealed the Clean Power Plan, nominated climate change-denier Kathleen Hartnett White as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, censored EPA climate scientists and removed climate change information from government websites.

Fortunately, despite the Trump administration’s best efforts to reverse clean energy policies, the transition from coal to clean energy will only continue to expand. Due to the availability of cleaner and cheaper sources of energy on the market, analysts claim that the next American president can reverse the Trump administration’s mistakes.

In addition, Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres stated that the U.S. withdrawal “provoked an unparalleled wave of support for the treaty,” and “shored up the world’s resolve on climate action.”

As of 2016, the UN Paris Agreement is the fastest international treaty ever adopted. Despite being torn by a civil war since 2011, Syria officially announced that it would sign the Paris Agreement during the 23rd annual UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany. The U.S now stands alone as the last remaining holdout, and the only U.N. member state in climate denial.

But this is not the whole story. Many Americans are determined to stand with the Paris Agreement, and have created the “We Are Still In” coalition. With their slogan “U.S. Action on Climate Change Is Irreversible,” they remain committed to uphold the Paris Agreement targets — a 26-28 per cent reduction in CO2 by 2025 — with or without the federal government.

A total of 20 states, 110 cities and more than 1,400 businesses have pledged to cut their fossil-fuel emissions to ensure that target is met. The American Pledge Report released Nov. 11, 2017 estimated that the coalition represents more than half of the U.S. economy, making them a reliable and strong ally.

It seems like even the U.S. is not yet a lost cause.

A principled and vocal section of American society working together with a well-supported international climate coalition may yet stymie the Trump administration’s plans, and hold off the threat of a 2+°C change in climate. 

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 10, No. 3 (Nov/Dec 2017).