Regrets and relief one year after US ditched global climate deal

Despite a deluge of state and city-level policies in the United States to curb emissions and fight climate change, experts say piece-meal regulations cannot match the impact and reach of federal policy.

A year after President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of a global pact to fight climate change, experts lament the move but welcome efforts by cities and states to fill the gap.

Trump’s announcement of June 1 last year to ditch the deal agreed upon by nearly 200 countries came over opposition by US businesses and US allies.

Trump said leaving the deal signed by his predecessor Barack Obama would boost domestic energy production and speed economic growth.

But it raised fears among pact supporters that other nations would follow suit.

“That was a dark day,” said Vicki Arroyo, executive director of Georgetown University’s Climate Center. “A domino effect could have happened.”

Instead two more countries—Syria and Nicaragua—signed on after Trump’s announcement.

The 2015 Paris agreement committed nations to curbing greenhouse emissions and keeping the global hike in temperatures “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.

A meeting is planned in December in Poland for countries to look at its implementation, including how to monitor emissions.

Experts say momentum is compromised in the absence of the United States, the world’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter after China.

“We need the US back at the table,” said Selwin Hart, the ambassador of Barbados, at a panel in Washington organised by the World Resources Institute (WRI).

Nevertheless, a deluge of state- and city-level policies adopted over the last twelve months, from greenhouse gas to electric car targets, is a silver lining, said others on the panel.

The US departure from the Paris pact “gave us a galvanizing point,” said Angela Navarro, Virginia’s deputy secretary of commerce and trade.

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe ordered last year a push for a cap-and-trade system to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, citing the federal government’s retreat from the climate debate.

California Gov. Jerry Brown is planning a global climate summit in September.

States, cities and businesses representing more than half the U.S. economy and population have adopted targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to WRI.

However, piece-meal regulation cannot match the policy reach of the federal government, Arroyo said.

“I don’t think that anyone would argue that we’re in a better position,” she said. “The task definitely got harder.” 

This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.

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