Is it ‘America Alone’ on climate change?

By Kathleen Naday Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/12 18:58:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Ahead of the COP23 Climate Conference, which opened November 6 in Bonn, Germany, new reports on the impact of greenhouse gases have been released, including a multi-agency report by the US government. Although COP23 is mainly to hash out the nitty-gritty of the Paris climate agreement that was signed in 2015, all eyes have been on what the US' contribution to the talks will be.

War-torn Syria signed up to the Paris agreement a day after the meeting started, and Nicaragua signed on in October, making the US feel out of step with the world.

Environmental organization Sierra Club responded to the news of Syria's joining by issuing a statement, "As if it wasn't already crystal clear, every other country in the world is moving forward together to tackle the climate crisis," the BBC reported.

Former US vice president Al Gore, a passionate climate campaigner, rued being unable to persuade incumbent President Donald Trump over climate change.

The Trump administration's plans to promote coal as a solution to man-made climate change at Bonn had already left delegates from other nations and scientists aghast. A White House spokesperson said that fossil-fuel use could be "efficient and clean," outraging environmental experts.

Observers agree that the US is isolating itself, and this means other nations such as China, Canada and the EU will start to move the agenda. Media reports suggest that far from being "America First," on climate change it will be "America Alone." The US has not been invited to a summit to be held in Paris in December.

The World Meteorological Organization reports that 2017 is set to be one of the top three hottest years on record.

Another report from the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) predicted that tens of millions of people would be forced from their homes by climate change. Retired US military experts told the EJF that Europe will need to prepare for a new influx of climate refugees from sub-Saharan Africa. Many experts think we have already seen the start of the first big waves of climate refugees - some point to an extreme drought in Syria as being one of the precipitating factors of the conflict, with large numbers of rural people forced to migrate to cities. The World Health Organization has warned that climate change is causing health problems.

As if this weren't enough, a damning report from the US government cited a multi-agency study saying it was extremely likely that climate change was man-made. Volume II of the National Climate Assessment said that more of the predicted impacts of climate change were becoming a reality, The New York Times reported.

The US administration sought to downplay this report, which directly contradicts views of top US officials, who have voiced skepticism about the role of greenhouse gases produced by human activity, including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.

But with the entire world standing against one nation - the world's second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases - can the US alone derail this global consensus? The "We Are Still In" coalition, led by former New York mayor and billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg, and Jerry Brown, current California governor, has set up their own pavilion at Bonn, an altogether flashier affair than the official US presence, according to reports. Bloomberg, The New York Times reported, has put $1 million of his own money into the initiative, which represents states, cities, businesses and other institutions, which, if added together, would comprise the world's third-largest economy at $6.2 trillion in economic output. It says it represents 130 million Americans. Added to this, at least seven out of 10 Americans believe climate change is man-made, the report said.

This is of course good news. But the fragmented US response is confusing. Who can we believe, especially as you have an administration working against other civil society movements? Brown told media that he is trying to step into the vacuum led by other high-ranking officials. States and cities enacting pro-green policies certainly will have an effect, but in the end, it may just be big business that is the deciding factor. We Are Still In has over 1,000 state governors, mayors and CEOs in the non-partisan coalition. Businesses not only need natural resources - the supply of which may be disrupted as the effects of climate change kick in - from crops, to water to energy - they also need customers.

Policies at national and multilateral levels will also force change. As many nations, including China, have pledged to phase out vehicles that run on fossil fuels, the auto industry knows it must adapt. If US car makers wish to compete with their Asian and European rivals, they should start making electric vehicles, or risk being left behind.

It is to be hoped that whatever Trump says or does during his term will not be able to derail the global, political and business-led consensus on climate change.

The author is a Beijing-based freelance writer who is doing postgraduate studies in sustainability at SOAS, University of London.

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