Special Topics in Environmental Management

More Action Urged by Climate Conference

Parties to the Paris Climate Accord need to accelerate their actions to both meet the goals of the accord and go beyond those goals. That was the main message emerging from the 23rd Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-23), a 12-day meeting that concluded in Bonn, German, on November 17, 2017.

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“The common message from all sides at this conference has been that action to get on track towards the objectives of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and to ultimately achieve the 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development Goals is urgent, time is really running out, and everyone simply must do much better together to drive climate action further and faster ahead,” stated the United Nations (U.N.). “Above all, this means rapidly raising the current global ambition to act on climate change that is captured in the full set of national climate action plans, which sit at the heart of the agreement.”

Vocal support

Apart from parties achieving universally aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the U.N. reported signs of progress. For example, signatories to Paris are becoming more vocal in their support of agreement. Specifically, the U.N. General Assembly in New York this year saw the highest number of references to climate change on record—84 percent of U.N. member states highlighted it as a priority, and many of them made calls of support for the Paris Agreement.

But actions have yet to back up the talk. The latest U.N. emissions gap report shows that current pledges will only deliver a third of what is needed to stay in the safety zones of the Paris Agreement, and scientists are forecasting that 2017 will see the first increase in carbon dioxide emissions in 3 years.

U.S. delegation on sidelines

President Donald Trump has committed to pulling the United States out of the accord unless conditions more favorable to the United States are negotiated. A small U.S. delegation attended COP-23, but there was no announcement that the United States had changed its mind about withdrawing from the Paris Accord in 2020, the earliest opportunity available to withdraw. The U.S. team participated in talks about how nations—China and India in particular—should report their emissions. But basically, the U.S. delegation played a minor role in discussions.

The conference concluded with the announcement of initiatives and financial commitments by member nations as well as international banks and other international organizations, particularly to assist developing nations.

America’s nonfederal pledge

Despite the stance of the U.S. federal government, a delegation representing American cities, states, and businesses made a positive impact at the conference. Calling itself America’s Pledge, the group comprises 2,300 nonfederal parties, including 1,400 businesses, who have signed a We Are Still In [the Paris Accord] statement. The organization says that if its membership comprised a country, it would represent $25 trillion in market capitalization and be the world’s third largest economy (after the United States and China). The delegation was led by California Governor Jerry Brown and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is also currently serving as U.N.’s special envoy for cities and climate change.

Brown and Bloomberg arrived in Bonn with a new report that documents how America’s Pledge is endeavoring to meet the commitment made by President Barack Obama in Paris in December 2015, specifically reducing U.S. GHG emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The report contends that there is significant untapped potential for “subnational leaders” to move toward 100 percent renewable energy, advanced electric vehicles, and optimized building efficiency.

“In the year ahead, businesses, cities, states and others must set new targets that seize these opportunities and align with the best science,” America’s Pledge states. “By meeting and beating these goals, they can capture the economic and public health benefits of a booming clean energy economy.”

Information about COP-23 is available here.

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