2017: A Year in Review with La Ruta del Clima


2017 review

Trump administration reverses course

Within minutes of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the climate change webpage on the official White House website disappeared.  This foreshadowed a crackdown on climate science and Obama-era policies and signaled a seismic shift in policy under this new administration filled with climate deniers and fossil fuel advocates.  


Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke have helped lead a regulatory rollback of Obama-era policies.  Since January 20, Trump has signed executive orders approving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and expanding offshore drilling, Zinke has lifted a moratorium on coal leases on public lands and Pruitt has announced his intention to scrap the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

The United States withdraws from the Paris Agreement, while Syria and Nicaragua join

In a widely criticized move, which Trump claimed was a “a reassertion of America’s sovereignty,” he announced the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement on June 1.  Trump blasted the agreement as a “massive redistribution of United States wealth to other countries,” announcing his intention to end the United States’ implementation of its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) and its payments to the Green Climate Fund.  The United States cannot officially withdraw from the agreement until November 4, 2020.


On October 25, Nicaragua’s Vice President Rosario Murillo stated that her country would be joining the Paris Agreement.  Nicaragua had previously opposed the accord on the grounds that it was not ambitious enough.

During the second day of this year’s climate summit in November, Syrian delegates announced their intention to sign the Paris Agreement, leaving the United States as the only nation opposed to the Paris Agreement.


Natural disasters dominate news cycle

2017 was not a normal year for natural disasters.

This year’s Atlantic hurricane season was one of the most destructive in history, with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate causing devastation in the Caribbean, southern United States and Central America.  Nate led to 22 deaths in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras.  Hurricane Maria crippled Puerto Rico’s power grid and fresh water supply, sparking a humanitarian crisis. The United States suffered more $200 billion dollars from storms this season, making it the most expensive hurricane season ever.

Increasing sea level temperatures and changing atmospheric conditions from climate change in the Atlantic have helped intensify the hurricane season in recent years, with 2017 ranking as one of the seven most intense ever recorded.  

More than 1,200 people died this summer in India, Nepal and Bangladesh from massive flooding during monsoon season.  Rising sea temperatures in South Asia and changing atmospheric conditions have also helped intensify storms in this region.

Wildfires in northern California resulted in over 40 fatalities and billions of dollars of damage.  Countries such as Chile, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Croatia, Greece, Russia, Greenland and Canada were also heavily impacted by wildfires in 2017.  Scientists have speculated that there is a climate component fueling these fires


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One of the hottest years on record

As 2017 winds down, it is on track to be one of the three hottest years on record.  This is coming off the warmest year ever in 2016, with the ten hottest years having all occured since 1998.

COP23 held in Bonn, Germany

This year’s climate negotiations in Bonn, hosted by the island-nation of Fiji, led to a resolution helping advance the implementation of the Paris Agreement as well as the launching of several initiatives and alliances, including:

Talanoa Dialogue:  This inclusive and participatory process will facilitate the “sharing of ideas, skills and experience through storytelling” among governments on how to implement the Paris Agreement and enhance action in countries’ nationally determined contributions.  

Gender Action Plan: This initiative seeks to increase the role of women in climate change governance.

InsuRelience Global Partnership: The InsuResilience Global Partnership for Climate and Disaster Risk Finance and Insurance Solutions was launched with the financial assistance of Germany and the United Kingdom, to help provide insurance and financial protection to populations vulnerable to climate change.  

Powering Past Coal Alliance: Canada and the United Kingdom announced the formation of this alliance, which includes more than two dozen nations, two U.S. states and several Canadian provinces.  The alliance’s members, which include Costa Rica, committed to “phasing out existing traditional coal power in their jurisdictions, and to a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage within their jurisdictions.”

America’s Pledge – Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and California Governor Jerry Brown held a launch event at the U.S. Climate Action Center for the America’s Pledge initiative, which brings together members of the private and public sectors in the United States committed to remaining in the Paris Agreement.   

France and the United Kingdom make strides

Under a draft bill submitted in September, France will no longer issue new oil and gas exploration permits on its mainland and territories, and current concessions will be phased out by 2040.   This bill is largely a symbolic move, as France imports the vast majority of its hydrocarbons used for consumption.  Hulot also announced France will ban petrol and diesel cars by 2040 and has been vocal about reducing France’s dependence on nuclear energy.

Following France’s lead, the British government announced its intention to ban all petrol and diesel cars by 2040.  

Scottish Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse announced an effective ban on fracking after a public consultation demonstrated overwhelming opposition to the technology.

Tesla and Volvo make advances in electric vehicles

In July, Volvo announced that all new vehicles from 2019 onwards would be hybrid or fully electric.  In a historic move, the Swedish car company announced that it would produce five fully electric models between 2019 and 2021.
Elon Musk revealed an electric semi-truck produced by Tesla in November, promising production would start in 2019.  This new truck can travel up to 500 miles in between charges. 

Giant iceberg splits from Antarctica

An iceberg roughly one-ninth the size of Costa Rica and weighing one trillion tons, split from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica.  While it was unclear the extent that climate change played, this event was symbolic of the urgency of the threat global warming poses.


COP23, Climate Finance and the Green Climate Fund

Green Climate Fund Pavilion at COP23

The issue of climate finance is slated to take on a critical role at the 2017 UN Climate Change Conference (COP23) in Bonn this November and build upon progress made in previous negotiations.  COP23 President Frank Bainimarama, who is the Prime Minister of Fiji, has made access to climate finance a “key pillar” of his presidency.

Climate finance, in the context of international negotiations, dates back to the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992. It was agreed that developed nations should “take all practicable steps to promote, facilitate and finance, as appropriate, the transfer of, or access to, environmentally sound technologies and know-how to other Parties.”  The Kyoto Protocol advanced the issue of climate finance, by helping to establish the Adaptation Fund, which finances projects to aid developing nations in adapting to climate change.  

In recent years, climate finance has been at the forefront of climate negotiations.  The 2009 Copenhagen Accord calls for developed countries to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries.  The 2010 negotiations in Cancun lead to the creation of the Green Climate Fund, a fund for wealthier nations to assist developing nations in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.  The Paris Agreement reaffirmed the $100 billion commitment set forth in Copenhagen.

Leading up to this year’s convention, key announcements about climate finance have been made. On October 16, the Asian Development Bank announced it would increase its financing to over $500 million between 2017 and 2020, more than doubling its previous totals. The following day, Fiji, this year’s host nation, became the first developing country to issue a green bond to finance climate change mitigation and adaption in this vulnerable island nation.



Joe Thwaites, an Associate in the Sustainable Finance Center at World Resources Institute, told of the significant role that climate finance is expected to play in the upcoming conference.

This is the first COP hosted by a small island developing state, and with the impacts of climate change becoming clearer, a key emphasis of the negotiations is likely to be on support for the poorest and most vulnerable countries,” said Thwaites. “There is likely to be a strong focus on adaptation finance; funding to help countries deal with the impacts of climate change.”

Thwaites went on to say: “There are several concrete agenda items where this is likely to come up. Countries are considering how the Adaptation Fund will serve the Paris Agreement. In addition, they will review progress toward developed countries’ goal of mobilizing $100 billion a year for developing countries by 2020, and will provide guidance on how funding, particularly for adaptation, can be scaled up toward this. Negotiators will also be discussing how countries should account for, report, and review climate finance provided and received, and how developing countries can articulate their future support needs. Every year COP also provides guidance to the Global Environment Facility and Green Climate Fund.”

While there is a great deal of optimism coming into the conference, this has been somewhat marred by President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and his attacks on climate finance.  In announcing his decision in a statement filled with half-truths and factual inaccuracies,  Trump blasted the “so-called Green Climate Fund” as a “scheme to redistribute wealth out of the United States.”

Since Trump’s decision came on the heels of a $500 million installment to the Green Climate Fund by President Barack Obama, there was considerable concern that the goal of investing $100 billion annually for mitigation and adaptation for developing countries could be jeopardized.  Still, the rest of the international community is poised to move ahead this month.

“The situation in the United States is obviously worrisome,” said Donovan Escalante, a Senior Analyst at the Climate Policy Initiative.  “However, I do not think it is sufficient to overcome the progress that has been made in the last decade to combat climate change.  We have seen enormous progress in reducing the cost of renewable energy, increasing energy efficiency and creating the political will to resolve the issue of climate change.”

The shift in policy by the Trump Administration has in many ways emboldened the international community as well as many local and state governments in the United States in the months leading up to Bonn.

In the wake of Trump’s announced withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, 14 U.S. states and over 500 cities have committed to adopt, honor and uphold the Agreement’s climate goals,” said Thwaites. “Several cities and states have expressed interest in a collective effort to contribute to international climate funding. Other countries are also standing firm and delivering on their commitments to the GCF. So even if the U.S. federal government is withdrawing, there remains momentum behind the GCF and climate action more broadly.”