Right now, representatives from 169 countries are in the small city of Katowice, Poland, for the 2018 United Nations climate change negotiations, which are taking place from Dec. 2 to 14. Their charge: to set plans in motion to achieve the goals articulated in the 2015 landmark Paris Agreement.
Given the whiplash created by the Trump administration’s turn away from international efforts to tackle climate change while federal agencies release reports such as the Fourth National Climate Assessment section on Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States, you might wonder: What will the U.S.’s role be at the U.N. climate change negotiations, known as COP24?
First things first, the U.S. is still in the Paris Agreement. The U.S. ratified the Paris Agreement on Sept. 3, 2016. Although President Donald Trump announced last year that “the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord,” this withdrawal is not possible until 2020 because the Paris Agreement specifically outlines that no country can leave the agreement for the first three years after its entry into force. Trump can formally begin the process of withdrawing from the agreement in November 2019. But under international law, he is required to give one year’s notice before formal removal takes place. Until November 2020, the U.S. remains in the Paris Agreement.
But, there’s a catch. Under the architecture of the Paris Agreement, each country wrote its own, country-specific, greenhouse gas reduction goal called a Nationally Determined Contribution. The U.S. plan was based almost entirely on the Clean Power Plan, which the Trump Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have rolled back. While the U.S. remains in the Paris Agreement and has not yet publicly obstructed the international negotiating process, the federal government is dismantling its domestic greenhouse gas reduction commitments.
Despite this void of federal political will, the U.S. is still committed to the terms of the Paris Agreement and, therefore, has an obligation to the international community to meet these goals. This is not to mention the responsibility that U.S. national leaders have to American citizens, communities and companies that are being negatively affected by climate change.
In lieu of federal government climate action, a groundswell of leadership has emerged from cities, states, corporations, universities and faith communities across the country. The We Are Still In Coalition is made up of more than 3,000 entities representing more than $9.4 trillion in U.S. gross domestic product. This group will be hosting the U.S. Climate Action Center at COP24 from Dec. 7 to 10. In addition to serving as a key hub for information sharing, the center is also a symbol to show the world that citizens and leaders across the U.S. are still committed to international cooperation on climate change.
States from all over the nation — California, Oregon, Connecticut and Rhode Island, to name a few — have played a significant role in building this coalition. Their governors are not only trying to reduce the negative impacts of climate change at the state level, but they also embrace the economic opportunities resulting from the transition to a low-carbon economy. Their actions highlight a growing recognition that climate action is needed at all levels — from the United Nations negotiating halls to the cities, towns and townships across the U.S.
With Gov.-elect Janet Mills headed to the State House in January, Maine, too, has the potential to harness these opportunities embedded in climate leadership. After all, though the international climate change negotiations seem very far from home, ultimately the decisions made in Katowice need to be implemented right here in Augusta and across each of our communities.
To follow the University of Maine delegation at COP24, visit the COP24 Perspectives Blog.
Anna McGinn is a National Science Foundation graduate research fellow at the University of Maine. This column reflects her views and expertise and does not speak on behalf of the university or NSF. She is the graduate fellow for the Maine chapter of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the BDN every other week.