The following article is part of an Eco-Perspective special in which the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law is collaborating with the VLS COP22 Observer Delegation
By Julia Muench
One year ago, parties to the UNFCCC signed the Paris Agreement, expecting it to come into force over the next four years as individual nations went through the slow process of ratification. To everyone’s surprise, the requisite number of nations ratified it, and as of November 4, the Paris Agreement officially came into force. Today, the parties to the UNFCCC held the first meeting under the Paris Agreement. At the opening ceremony, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced that this historic approval marks “a new dawn for global cooperation on climate change.” All of the speakers at the ceremony emphasized that this rapid endorsement demonstrates that the world is ready to move forward together to address climate change.
The shadow of US President-elect Donald Trump occasionally threatened to cloud the day’s proceedings, but the new dawn continued to shine through. President François Hollande of France called for consistency and perseverance to work towards the goals of the Agreement, which he called irreversible in law, in fact, and in the minds of the citizens of the world. He specifically thanked President Obama for his crucial role in obtaining agreement in Paris, and then called out the United States, stating that “the largest economic power in the world and the second largest greenhouse gas emitter must respect the commitments they have undertaken.”
The conversation about U.S. participation in the Agreement continued throughout the day. Jonathan Pershing, the Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, focused on market forces that have made fossil fuels unsustainable. For example, he pointed out that the U.S. currently has over 2 million renewable energy jobs compared to 65,000 coal miners. Although refusing to speculate on the future administration, he hinted that a President focused on jobs might find the renewable energy sector more attractive. He also observed that cities and local governments are already adapting to natural disasters, whether they were calling it adaptation to climate change or not.
In a heavily attended panel on U.S. Climate Action, Deb Markowitz (Secretary of Natural Resources for Vermont) addressed the tension head-on, theorizing that many people were there to find out just what effect the Trump administration would have. The panelists’ answer? Not as much as one might fear. Brian Deese (Senior Advisor to the President overseeing Climate Change and Energy Policy) emphasized that the Clean Power Plan was promulgated in response to a mandate from the US Supreme Court holding the EPA has a duty to regulate greenhouse gases. Even President Trump cannot reverse the Supreme Court’s holding, nor can he eliminate the Clean Power Plan without backing in science and law. Markowitz, meanwhile, focused on state action. She observed that state actions drove U.S. climate response during the Bush years, and pointed out that states from Texas to Vermont are deploying renewable energy projects.
As President Hollande observed [yesterday], our world is in turmoil – a setting in which “those who trade in fear are allowed to thrive.” In this world, many have come to doubt what the international community can do. But the Paris Agreement is a beacon of hope in the night, and “a promise of hope cannot be betrayed. It must be fulfilled.” With, or without, the President of the United States.