Nations around the world take cues from U.S. climate insurgents
“The alliance is represented by all political parties, by all ways of thinking,” Alfaro Ramírez told POLITICO through a translator. “So this can really be the counter-power [to] the national government.”
The groups are part of an umbrella organization, Alliances for Climate Action, that wants to craft coalitions that extend beyond national governments to ensure progress on climate change can outlast shifting political winds.
The Japan Climate Initiative, made up of 435 businesses and local governments that account for one-third of Japanese greenhouse gas emissions, hopes to nudge Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government to back away from financing coal projects and push harder for renewable energy.
In Brazil, a fledgling movement of progressive governors is trying to further climate goals despite President Jair Bolsonaro’s efforts to roll back protections for the Amazonian rain forest. Several of those governors also met with officials from a handful of U.S. states on the sidelines of the September U.N. climate summit in New York, according to a person familiar with the meetings.
Activists said the growing coalitions are evidence the political push to tackle climate change has taken root below the national political level.
“These things should exist in every country. They don’t need to be created in oppositional framing,” said Allison Fajans-Turner, associate director of special projects with Climate Nexus, a climate change communications firm.
Still, while U.S. states, cities and businesses were out in force at the Madrid conference, the climate divide between the American groups and the Trump administration was particularly stark.
The official U.S. delegation, which included no senior political officials from the Trump administration, was huddled behind a closed door in a blue-walled room that was marked only by a sheet of paper directing inquiries to a State Department email address.
Meanwhile, just around the corner in the conference center, a steady stream of U.S. state officials, business executives and youth activists streamed in and out of a glass-enclosed exhibition area plastered with the words “We Are Still In.”
Democratic lawmakers, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, traveled to Madrid for the conference’s opening weekend. Democratic presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg will attend the final week of the talks, as will Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who has blasted Trump’s claim that he was protecting the Steel City’s workers by withdrawing from the Paris accord. They’ll be joined by former Secretary of State John Kerry, who helped craft the international agreement during the Obama administration. Former Vice President Al Gore and actor Harrison Ford are also attending.
“Trump may have pulled out, but the American people haven’t,” Kerry told POLITICO in a recent interview.
The work by the U.S. groups appeared to be well-received in Madrid. California has been a magnet for foreign politicians, and officials from the state have met with representatives from Canada and the European Union, said Julie Cerqueira, a former Obama State Department official. She is now executive director of the U.S. Climate Alliance, a collection of state and local governments still shooting for the Paris goals.
But they also acknowledge that without action by the federal government, the U.S. will fall short of the Obama administration’s Paris pledge to reduce U.S. emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. And that goal, much like other nations’ targets under the Paris accord, won’t be enough to head off dramatic changes in the climate.
While the cities, counties, states and businesses that remain committed to reaching the Paris emissions goals represent 68 percent of U.S. gross domestic product and 65 percent of its population, that accounts for just 51 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the report from America’s Pledge, a climate effort started in 2017 by Bloomberg and former California Gov. Jerry Brown through the coalition of businesses and local governments called We Are Still In.
“It’s not enough,” Cerqueira said. “You’re starting to see a lot of slippage for the other states.”
Fourteen U.S. states are committing to 100 percent clean energy goals and Colorado, New York, Maine and New Jersey all in some way require their states to cut greenhouse gas emissions in line with recommendations from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But overall U.S. emissions still increased last year by 2.8 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“That’s really the gold standard at the point. Are you translating this ‘We’re Still In’ rhetoric to real policy action?” said Pam Kiely, senior director of regulatory strategy with the Environmental Defense Fund. “There’s a big difference between commitments and reality.”