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Climate Talks: One Nation—Divided, but not Diminished

Posted by Sara Gutterman

Nov 16, 2017 9:44:40 AM

With a vocal group of American politicians, sustainability advocates, and business leaders receiving more attention than the official U.S. delegation, a staged protest that halted a pro-fossil fuel panel, and overwhelming credence and support offered to the “We are Still In” coalition, the COP23 climate talks aren’t going the way that the Trump Administration had planned.

The 23rd session of the United Nations Conference of the Parties, or COP23, underway this week in Bonn, Germany, has, in its own way, represented a watershed moment for climate action.

While the official U.S. delegation, consisting mostly of Trump Administration representatives who have expressed skepticism or even outright denial of climate change, aspired to stonewall the ever-growing momentum towards global collaboration and consensus on climate action, their efforts are being thwarted on all levels.

Not only has every other nation with the exception of the U.S. now signed the Paris Agreement, but a shadow delegation, called the We Are Still In coalition, led by climate leaders Al Gore, California Governor Jerry Brown, and former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, have effectively elbowed out Trump’s appointees, commandeering leadership, affirming climate commitments, and negotiating forward-thinking deals on behalf of cities, states, and private enterprises to curb our nation’s carbon emissions.

The We Are Still In coalition represents 2,500 U.S. entities who are steadfast in their commitment to reduce our collective environmental impact and carbon emissions, consisting of 127 million Americans from all 50 states and $6.2 trillion of the total U.S. economy.

According to New York Times reporter Lisa Friedman:

One of the strangest dynamics at the Bonn climate talks so far has been the fact that everyone is trying to pretend the Trump administration doesn’t really exist.  A whole bunch of American politicians, like Al Gore and Michael R. Bloomberg, have showed up this week to loudly insist that Mr. Trump’s dismissal of climate policy doesn’t really represent the country writ large, that plenty of cities and states are still doing their part to cut emissions and that Americans still very much want to tackle this problem.

And, as we’ve found, it’s a message the rest of the world seems eager to accept — at least on the surface. Whenever we’ve asked diplomats from other countries about the United States, they’re far more interested in talking about California or New York than about Washington. They don’t want to believe that the United States is opposed to action on global warming. They’d rather see the Trump administration as an aberration.

The We Are Still In coalition is assertively demonstrating to the rest of the world that our nation is far more than just the policies and politics our Federal government. 

The duality of the two U.S. delegations is proving to be both striking and confusing. While the We Are Still In coalition meets with world leaders to discuss collaborations on carbon markets, smart cities, and clean energy initiatives, the Trump Administration officials hold fast to their promise to abandon the Paris agreement, offering a full-throated defense of fossil fuels and nuclear energy as solutions for decreasing global greenhouse gas emissions.  Isolated in their stance towards climate change, the official delegation has been met with a range of reactions, from wariness and suspicion to proverbial cold shoulders to massive protests. 

The Trump delegation’s only official appearance was at a pro-coal forum, which was disrupted for nearly 10 minutes by a hoard of singing demonstrators, followed by prolonged jeering and booing, illustrating how divergent the Trump Administration’s views on climate action are from most of the summit’s other participants. 

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Michael Bloomberg appropriately compared the official U.S. delegation’s promotion of coal at a climate summit to the promotion of tobacco at a cancer summit, and Governor Jay Inslee of Washington called the delegation’s fossil fuel forum a “sideshow that the rest of the world should ignore.”

Other countries have responded by reaffirming and bolstering climate commitments—for example France has pledged to eliminate coal from its electricity mix by 2022, and Italy by 2025. 

The deep divide between the U.S. delegations leads to the inevitable question—which side will be more effective in their deal making with other nations?  Will climate advocates sway the hearts and minds of world leaders, forging deals that lead to climate progress?  Or will the Trump administration win out, convincing their peers that they represent the voice of America and wield the ultimate power?

If you’d like to take part in developing an actionable plan for developing smart, clean, efficient, and resilient solutions, please join Green Builder Media and the City of Orlando at our upcoming Sustainability Symposium: Champions of Change on January 8, 2018 at the University of Central Florida campus in Orlando, Florida.  The event will directly and honestly confront the reality of climate change—the challenge of our generation, and the opportunity of a lifetime.

Click here for more information about the Sustainability Symposium 2018: Champions of Change.  Space is limited, to be sure to reserve your seat today! 

What do you think is the most effective way to influence policy related to clean mobility solutions? Write to me at sara.gutterman@greenbuildermedia.com.

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