America’s Pledge: Filling the Void at COP23

During the COP23 Conference in Bonn earlier this month, a group of leaders from state and local governments, the business world, colleges and faith organizations established the U.S. Climate Action Center, a giant pavilion where they reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement.  High profile figures such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Vice President Al Gore and California Governor Jerry Brown spoke about the importance of transitioning to a low-carbon economy and meeting the two-degree climate target established in Paris.

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IMG_2995During COP23, Bloomberg and Brown held a launch event for America’s Pledge, an initiative that brings together public and private sector leaders committed to meeting the goals set forth in the Paris Agreement. This broad alliance sent a message to the rest of the world that much of the United States was willing to move forward, despite President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the accord.  Governors, senators, mayors, corporate executives, university presidents, and religious leaders pledged to do their share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support renewable energy.  

 

“The group of U.S. cities, states, and businesses who remain committed to the Paris Agreement represents a bigger economy than any nation outside the U.S. and China,” said Bloomberg in his remarks about America’s Pledge at COP23. “We should have a seat at the table – and the ability to work with peers in other nations. And that’s the aim of this pavilion.”

Bloomberg went on to say: “The Trump Administration did send a delegation here to Bonn, and this might be the first climate conference where coal is promoted as an example of sustainability – but it will also likely be the last. The world is moving on, and so is the U.S.”

Leaders of America’s Pledge initiative were not without their critics who pointed out that many of these leaders have often been at odds with environmentalists.

Governor Brown, who was targeted throughout his appearances in Bonn, presides over the country’s third largest oil- and gas-producing state.  And while Brown has been hailed by some as a climate hero for helping extend California’s cap-and-trade program to 2030 and signing green energy agreements with partnering Chinese cities, he has often been criticized by “keep it in the ground” activists for embracing fracking and urban drilling in California.

Bloomberg has also been a proponent of fracking and was critical of New York’s decision to ban the technology, coauthoring an op-ed piece in The Washington Post entitled “Fracking is too important to foul up.”  Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who spoke at COP23, has been criticized by environmentalists for backing natural gas pipelines and championing off-shore drilling.  

Corporations and banks represented at the U.S. Climate Action Center, such as Walmart, Citigroup, Inc., and JPMorgan Chase, also have mixed environmental records.  While Walmart has pledged to become 100 percent supplied by renewable energy and create zero waste, only about 13 percent of its energy use in the United States comes from renewable energy.   Citigroup, Inc. has committed $100 billion to finance sustainable growth over a 10-year period, but has spent billions of dollars financing coal power plant operators.  JPMorgan Chase financed billions of dollars in extreme oil projects, such as Arctic drilling and tar sands extraction.

While many of the leaders of this initiative have far from immaculate environmental records, their defiant stand at COP23 helps fill the void in U.S. climate leadership that was left by the current administration.  As Bloomberg pointed out, this coalition represents more than half of the U.S. economy and would constitute the world’s third largest economy.  

“Cities, states, regions, and businesses can help to lead the way. Around the world, we need to empower local and regional governments to take action – and to work with business leaders to leverage their resources and expertise,” said Bloomberg. “America’s Pledge seeks to do just that – and we hope the UN will continue working on ways to incorporate non-state actors into the international process, in every country in the world.”

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If America is to meet its commitment to the Paris Agreement, it will require an all-hands-on-deck strategy. With the current administration turning its back on climate change, other players must step in.  As the world continues to fall short of the Paris Agreement targets, this new coalition of U.S. politicians, corporate executives, religious leaders and university presidents must take leadership in denouncing fossil fuel extraction and committing to carbon neutrality.

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#SamNosCuenta: Notes from the COP: Days 6 and 7

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As negotiators prepped for the second and final week of COP23, we, at La Ruta, have been covering the events taking place in the Climate Action and Bonn Zones.

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Panelists for Business Case for Advancing Strong Climate Leadership and Policy in California event

Saturday’s highlight was the arrival of several high profile figures to the United States Climate Action Zone.  Former Vice President Al Gore spoke on Maintaining U.S. Engagement in International Climate Finance. He was joined by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, Senior Director for Climate Policy and Programs for New York City Dan Zarrilli, Davenport, Iowa Mayor Frank Klipsch and representatives from the private sector.  Participants reaffirmed their commitment to the $100 billion finance goal, despite the recent political developments in the United States, with Gore affirming that the “train left the station in Paris.”

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Former Vice President Al Gore speaking on Maintaining U.S. Engagement in International Climate Finance

“These fast, urbanizing, growing cities, particularly in the developing world, are seeing that the path toward more fossil fuel use is a dead end,” Gore said.  “As a result, investors all over the world are seeing this opportunity open up.  When you cross the threshold, where renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels, it is not a minor change…All over the developing world and the developed world, we are seeing investors poised to put vast new flows of capital into this sustainability revolution, which represents the biggest investment opportunity in the history of the world.”

In a panel discussion with McAuliffe, Merkley highlighted the corrupting role money has had on U.S. politics in relation to climate finance.

“We need to kick the Koch brothers out of every state,” said Merkley.

The session on climate finance was followed by a panel discussion on the Business Case for Advancing Strong Climate Leadership and Policy in California.  The panel participants were Californians committed to the Paris Agreement, including Governor Jerry Brown, Chief Operating Officer of Fetzer Vineyards Cindy DeVries, Steve Malnight, Senior Vice President for Strategy and Policy of Pacific Gas & Electric, and Kaiser Permanente Vice President and Environmental Stewardship Officer Kathy Gerwig.  They discussed the role of the private and public sectors in California in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“If you get Trump, you get more carbon reduction,” said Brown.  “He gives carbon denial a bad name.  He is the poster boy for climate denial.”

Brown went on to say: “A little bit of Trump will go a long way.  Too much will destroy us all.”

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Governor Jerry Brown speaking on Advancing Strong Climate Leadership and Policy in California 

Brown was highly critical of President Trump, but optimistic about how his presidency has mobilized environmentalists throughout the United States. 

On Sunday, members from La Ruta del Clima joined speakers and panelists for a side event with the International Union for the Conservation (IUCN) on Youth Voices.  Speakers from the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), IUCN’s Environmental Law Center, International Forestry Students Association (IFSA), YMCA’s Resource Group on the Environment and others talked about their work related to climate change and perspectives on this year’s COP.

 

 

 

 

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Ph. D. Student Pananya Larbprasertporn

 

“I do have hope. Or perhaps I am just forcing myself to have hope,” said Anna Pretel, an intern from the Environmental Law Center.   “But I feel that is just talking and talking in the negotiation and not action. If we want to solve this problem we have to act now. We are running out of time.”

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