A day after the Trump administration announced its formal withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, more than 11,000 scientists declared a climate emergency.
On Tuesday, the journal BioScience published an article from the Alliance of World Scientists excoriating world governments for inaction on climate change.
“Despite 40 years of global climate negotiations, with few exceptions, we have generally conducted business as usual and have largely failed to address this predicament,” the report says. “The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected.”
The report lays out the climbing temperatures, rising sea levels, growing wildfires, and increasingly severe weather that are “more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States suffers an “unfair economic burden” under the voluntary 2015 global accord to prevent catastrophic climate change.
“The United States has reduced all types of emissions, even as we grow our economy and ensure our citizens’ access to affordable energy,” Pompeo said in a statement on Monday announcing the withdrawal from the Paris accord.
With the federal government in reverse on climate action, many states are taking matters into their own hands.
Governors from 24 states and Puerto Rico have pledged to cut their states’ greenhouse gases in line with what President Barack Obama pledged in the 2015 Paris agreement.
Known as the United States Climate Alliance, the states include more than half the U.S. population. If they were their own country, it would be the world’s third-largest economy.
Alliance members say that together they will come close to reaching the U.S. emissions target under the Paris accord. The states forecast an 18% to 25% reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2025. The United States pledged a 26 to 28% reduction.
Five of these states passed laws this year requiring electrical power to emit no net carbon dioxide by mid-century.
Several others have upped their commitments. New Jersey is rejoining a nine-state bloc that requires electric power companies to pay for their carbon dioxide pollution, a favorite policy of economists. Pennsylvania, a major fossil fuel producer, also has taken steps to join. Virginia sought to join last year but was blocked by the GOP-controlled legislature. Democrats flipped both legislative chambers this week.
“While looking at what the federal government is doing can be very disheartening, it’s good to see the momentum at the state and local and business levels continuing to grow,” said Kevin Kennedy, senior fellow at the World Resources Institute.
Trump’s Paris pullout announcement also catalyzed the creation of a coalition of states, cities, businesses and others calling itself “We Are Still In” to meet the agreement’s goals despite federal backpedaling.
The group now includes more than 3,800 signatories, including 10 states, 287 cities and counties and more than 2,200 businesses and investors.
“It’s not just the greenest companies,” noted Janet Peace, a senior vice president at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. The list does include solar panel companies and eco-friendly businesses like ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, but she notes chemical companies BASF and DuPont and construction company Skanska also have signed on, representing “a broader swath of businesses in the U.S.”
Nearly 300 companies have set targets to cut their emissions in line with the Paris agreement’s goals, and another 400 have pledged to do so.
But without federal action, experts say the country is unlikely to meet its Paris pledge.
A recent report from the Rhodium Group found greenhouse gas emissions would be cut 12 to 19% below 2005 levels by 2025, “a far cry from its Paris Agreement pledge.”
The report acknowledges the new state goals but notes that “much of the work to implement these ambitions remains to be done.”
Much of the reductions seen so far have come from switching electric power plants from coal to natural gas.
“But natural gas over time becomes a threat to zero-emitting power sources,” the report says. If oil and natural gas remain cheap, it will undercut efforts to transition to zero-carbon power and electric vehicles.
Plus, the Trump administration continues its efforts to loosen regulations on fossil fuel industries, from efficiency standards for vehicles and lighting to methane leakage from oil and gas production. The administration argues these measures are needed to spur economic growth.
While these factors move the needle in the wrong direction, the World Resources Institute’s Kevin Kennedy says state, local and business action is helping keep the Paris goal in sight.
“If you do get the federal government re-engaged in 2021, and they’re able to rapidly build on what’s already happening at the state and local level, then it’s not inconceivable” that the United States could meet its commitment.
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