A protestor responds to President Trump’s decision to remove the United States from the Paris climate agreement—Photo by Ken Fager, Flickr Creative Commons.

By Emmanuelle Pinault and Agathe Cavicchioli

The decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change announced on June 1, 2017, could have been disastrous. Instead it triggered an inspiring wave of pledges in support of the Paris Agreement and reinvigorated the drive for climate action. For mayors and governors who have been championing climate action for decades and are committed to a climate safe future, this may be the beginning of a new era in global climate leadership. 

By announcing his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, President Trump could have jeopardized decades of climate negotiations and dampened global efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Such efforts have mobilized thousands of diverse stakeholders, not least of all cities, states, and regions who have been key advocates of climate action, persistent contributors to climate negotiations, and ambitious decision-makers at their level. Unsurprisingly, their response to President Trump has been the most resounding. To understand the importance of this paradigm shift, it is crucial to look at the history of the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement: A Landmark Tool in the Global Response to Climate Change

The Paris Agreement is the result of a long and complex process started at COP15 in 2009 when nations were tasked to negotiate and adopt a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. However, negotiations failed when parties opposed assigned emission reduction targets. The only outcome was a nonbinding agreement with weak ambition and commitment mechanism. Projections at the time put the planet on a trajectory that would see global temperatures rise more than 4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, with catastrophic consequences for the future.

Whilst the outcome of the conference was disappointing, COP15 marked an important milestone for cities and local governments. They had been acting on climate change for years in their cities, but COP15 was their first opportunity to speak out on the global stage, with over 80 mayors present in Copenhagen. From then onwards, it became clear that cities were committed to climate action and would push their national governments for greater ambition in negotiations back home. A series of COP decisions then slowly and gradually gave some recognition to local governments (decisions 1/CP16 and 1/CP19), albeit sometimes resulting in strong resistance from nation states.

In the run-up to the decisive COP21 in Paris, over 500 mayors from around the world signed on to the Compact of Mayors to show “the impact of cities” collective actions through standardized measurement of emissions and climate risk, and consistent, public reporting of their efforts.”1 The Compact of Mayors was launched in 2014 at the United Nations Secretary General’s (UNSG) Summit on Climate Change, by Ban Ki-moon and the UNSG Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, Michael R. Bloomberg. The commitments of Compact cities presented at COP21 showed that they could deliver half of the total global urban emissions reduction potential by 2030.2 To continue growing this movement, the Compact of Mayors merged with the European Covenant of Mayors in 2016 to create the Global Covenant of Mayors bringing together over 7,400 cities and towns to keep driving climate ambition higher.

Just days before the Agreement was adopted, over 400 city leaders met at the Paris City Hall Summit for Local Climate Leaders. This massive gathering of mayors helped to demonstrate their unity and commitment to tackle climate change, as well as their readiness to implement transformative actions. Thanks to this, among other reasons, the climate deal that the world needed was adopted at COP21 in Paris in 2015.

The Paris Agreement is a true landmark in the global response to climate change. The deal succeeds where others had failed, in creating a delicate balance between an internationally legally-binding agreement to keep global average temperature increase within the margins that scientists calculate as “safe” and a framework of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) to register each country’s self-determined climate goals for 2020 or beyond. Finally, it formally calls for the engagement of non-party stakeholders including local and subnational governments, marking a great victory for cities, states, and regions that had so actively advocated for an ambitious climate deal.

The Agreement came into force in record time. Today it counts 197 signatories, of which 153 have already ratified it.3 The reason behind this rapid entry into force is manifold, but the mobilization of cities and local governments and their collective commitments to address climate change helped set high expectations and reinforce the sense of climate urgency.

Mayors Lead the Global Response to Trump’s Withdrawal from the Paris    Agreement

It is a mistake to believe that that the U.S. withdrawal from the deal will halt what has been set in motion in Paris. As Ban Ki-moon put it, the Paris Agreement “(…) once unthinkable (…), is now unstoppable.4

National leaders of the European Union, China, India, and many others have made clear that the Paris Agreement is not up for renegotiation and reaffirmed their commitment to climate action through individual and collective statements. In May and July 2017, the G7 and G20 communiqués56 reaffirmed the commitment of the world’s most powerful nations to the Paris Agreement. In both cases, the U.S. federal government was unprecedentedly marginalized and isolated.

The G20 Summit in particular was the first multilateral meeting after Trump’s announcement on the Paris Agreement and a crucial test for the strength of global action on climate change. Ahead of the Summit, C40 mayors and their citizens, through a joint statement, petition, and global campaign with states, investors, businesses, and NGOs, called for an ambitious G20 position on climate and clear signals that delivering the Paris Agreement is a priority. As a result, the G19 included strong and united language in their communiqué defining the Paris Agreement as “irreversible” and agreeing on an action plan7 to implement it through 2050 strategies, investment, and in coherence with the Sustainable Development Agenda. The United States chose to not support this paragraph of the communiqué, nor did they adopt the action plan, but the commitment of the other G19 signatories signals the rise of new climate leadership in the vacuum left by the United States.

However, the most overwhelming reaction to Trump’s announcement came from the diverse group of “non-state actors” in the United States and globally: cities, regions, businesses, investors, and philanthropies committed to defend the transformational change that the Paris Agreement has set in motion.

In the United States, many are willing to step in and do what the White House will not: Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City and C40 board president, generously pledged to give $15 million to the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat to compensate for the U.S. share of the UN budget. Hundreds of U.S. cities, universities, and businesses declared “We Are Still In”8 and committed to “pursue ambitious climate goals, working together to take forceful action and to ensure that the U.S. remains a global leader in reducing emission.” An influential group of leaders are now working on the creation of the “America’s pledge,”9 an unprecedented effort to aggregate the emission reductions of cities, regions, businesses, and other social actors to ensure that the United States achieves its Paris Agreement pledge, comforting further the idea that “leadership in the fight against climate change in the United States had shifted from the federal government to lower levels of government, academia, and industry.10

  Unsurprisingly, mayors are leading the way of this cross-sectorial, bottom-up, and policy-shaping movement that will certainly have long-term impacts on global diplomacy and the U.S. political order. At the time of writing, under the leadership of Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, 35911 American “Climate Mayors” have committed in a joint statement to “adopt, honor, and uphold Paris Climate Agreement goals,12 and have gone as far as creating a toolkit on how to adopt the goals of the Paris Agreement, including a template council resolution.

In the immediate aftermath of the White House announcement, statements and messages of support poured from all corners of the world affirming the commitment of cities to delivering the goals of the Paris Agreement. C40 Chair and Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo has resolutely condemned the decision of President Trump and asserted that C40 cities will continue to pioneer and implement bold climate action: “regardless of Donald Trump’s definitive decision, the great cities of the world, in particular the twelve American C40 cities, remain resolutely committed to doing what needs to be done to implement the Paris Agreement.13 In all, 50 cities around the world, from Stockholm and Cape Town to Melbourne and Mexico, expressed their support through public statements or lit up city halls and landmark monuments in green.

More strikingly, cities and states in the United States are taking matters into their own hands, passing legislation, delivering policies compatible with the Paris Agreement, and striking cooperation agreements at the highest level with nation states. The mayors of Portland and Pittsburgh have announced the adoption of 100 percent renewable energy targets for their cities, and the mayors of New York City, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., have signed Executive Orders to make the goals of the Paris Agreement their own. Many more mayors are set to follow.

The outpouring of support for the Paris Agreement, especially from city leaders, resolutely shows that local governments are leading the way to a cleaner, more resilient, and sustainable future for their cities and the world. Mayors and local leaders are now the uncontested champions of climate change. C40 is intensely proud of the leadership shown by our mayors in the United States and around the world and we are more committed than ever to support them.

Now everyone needs to get behind those mayors and the governors, businesses, philanthropists, and civil society groups that have committed to ensure that America plays its part in delivering a climate safe future. Through partnerships with businesses, states, regions, and many other committed non-party stakeholders, they can and they will deliver on the Paris Agreement. Indeed, they are unstoppable.

(Endnotes)

1 The Compact of Mayors, www.compactofmayors.org

2 Climate Leadership at the Local Level: Global Impact of the Compact of Mayors, Compact of Mayors, December 2015, https://data.bloomberglp.com/mayors/sites/14/2016/01/BR_AggregationReport_Final_SinglePages-FINAL-2016.pdf

3 At the time of writing, on July 20th 2017. For the latest status, please refer to: http://unfccc.int/2860.php

4 Secretary General’s remarks at the closing of COP21, Ban Ki-moon, 12 December 2015, https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/statement/2015-12-12/secretary-generals-remarks-closing-cop21

5 G7 Taormina Leaders’ Communiqué, G7, May 2017, http://www.g7italy.it/sites/default/files/documents/G7%20Taormina%20Leaders%27%20Communique_27052017_0.pdf

6 G20 Leaders’ Declaration, G20, July 2017, https://www.g20.org/Content/EN/_Anlagen/G20/G20-leaders-declaration.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=11 

7 G20 Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth, G20, July 2017, https://www.g20.org/Content/DE/_Anlagen/G7_G20/2017-g20-climate-and-energy-en.html?nn=2190012 

8 We Are Still In, http://www.wearestillin.com/

9 America’s Pledge, Bloomberg Philanthropies, https://www.bloomberg.org/program/environment/americas-pledge/

10 Bucking Trump, These Cities, States and Companies Commit to Paris Accord, New York Times, 1 June 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/01/climate/american-cities-climate-standards.html?_r=0

11 At the time of writing on 20th July 2017

12 359 US Climate Mayors commit to adopt, honor and uphold Paris Climate Agreement Goals, Climate Mayors, https://medium.com/@ClimateMayors/climate-mayors-commit-to-adopt-honor-and-uphold-paris-climate-agreement-goals-ba566e260097

13 Statement from Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris and C40 Chair, C40, 1 June 2017, http://www.c40.org/blog_posts/statement-from-anne-hidalgo-mayor-of-paris-and-c40-chair

Emmanuelle Pinault serves as the head of City Diplomacy – Political Engagement at C40. In this role, she is responsible for assessing and implementing C40’s city diplomacy strategy in the climate global political agenda, as well as engaging C40 member cities into the Compact of Mayors. Prior to joining C40, she worked for twelve years as an independent consultant on international relations and cooperation with national and local governments in Africa and Latin America. She also managed the Cities and Climate Change Bogota Summits in 2012 and 2015, and delivered Bogota City Marketing Strategy 2013-2015, working closely to the private sector. Emmanuelle holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, from the Institute of Political Studies, Lyon (France), and a Postgraduate Diploma in Sociology, from the School of High Studies in Social Sciences – EHESS, Paris.

Agathe Cavicchioli is the City Diplomacy Manager, Agathe’s role is to engage C40 members in the C40 City Diplomacy Strategy and support C40’s engagement and participation in intergovernmental climate, urban and development policy-making processes. Agathe works closely with the Head of City Diplomacy to drive strategic and effective engagement of the C40 network in global climate policy dialogue and to maximize its impact in the global political stage. Prior to joining C40, Agathe managed low-carbon development projects for an international local government network and supported the network’s global climate advocacy strategy and engagement in the UNFCCC process. Agathe holds a MA in Climate and Society from Columbia University and joint Master degrees in European Affairs and Urban Sustainable Development from Sciences Po Lille and Lille University of Science and Technology.