US states vow to push ahead in fight against climate change - with or without President Trump's blessing

'California will not retreat, California will not go backwards. Our resolve is stronger than ever before'

Adam Withnall
Thursday 17 November 2016 20:30
People stage a protest against President-elect Donald Trump on 16 November, near City Hall in Los Angeles, California
People stage a protest against President-elect Donald Trump on 16 November, near City Hall in Los Angeles, California

Individual US states have reacted defiantly to the surprise election of climate change denier Donald Trump at the UN summit here in Marrakech, saying they will not allow the federal government to derail the progress they have made towards saving the planet.

California has emerged as a global leader in its own right in terms of tackling climate change, and state officials said on Thursday that the Republican’s victory had made them “more determined than ever” to move forwards on climate action.

The President-elect has previously described man-made global warming as a hoax perpetrated by China, and according to reports his transition team is exploring the quickest way to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement.

And while local actors like California cannot prevent Mr Trump from scrapping American involvement in the landmark accord, through state laws and international collaboration they are already exploring options to limit the damage.

At a press conference held with high-level representatives of California, Washington and Vermont - all states which voted strongly for Hillary Clinton - David Rosenheim of The Climate Registry said such states “represent the forefront of climate leadership in the United States” - now that the White House can no longer be relied upon to do so.

States are already going beyond what is required of them under the US’s commitments to the Paris Agreement, with 35 of the 50 having adopted renewable portfolio standards, and 25 having codified standards for energy efficiency.

California’s senate leader, Kevin De Leon, said the state had “shattered the myth that to grow an economy you have to burn fossil fuels”.

He said California had grown to become the fifth largest world economy in its own right “not by pure luck, but by policies… driven to reduce our greenhouse gases and simultaneously grow our economy”.

“Let me be clear, California will not retreat, California will not go backwards. Our resolve is stronger than ever before, and we are more determined than ever before to move forwards with like-minded states and other nations.”

In a clear reference to the administration that will take over when Mr Trump is inaugurated on 20 January, Mr De Leon said the state would not allow “policies [made] in Washington DC to thwart our economy and become a job-killer”.

“California will move forwards… because of what is at stake - the future of the planet, the health of our children and our economy.”

He suggested California could even join the UN climate process if the US pulled out. A subnational body has never joined before, but Mr De Leon told reporters it was “an option that I want to keep open”.

The state has already proven itself capable of bypassing the federal government to work with the rest of the world. State officials say 166 regions of the world have joined in the Under 2 MOU (memorandum of understanding), stating their shared goal to keep global temperature rises under 2C - one of the fundamental aims of the Paris Agreement.

Formulated by the state, the MOU has seen subnational groups spanning 33 countries - including the Welsh devolved government and cities like Budapest and Manchester - agree to share technologies and work together to fight climate change.

Ken Alex, senior advisor to California governor Jerry Brown, said: “These jurisdictions represent 35 per cent of global GDP, and they have all committed to reducing 80 per cent of emissions by 2050. “That’s what we need to stay under 2C of warming and avoid the most consequential impacts of climate change.”

Trump gets public reality check from Barack Obama

Deborah Markowitz, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, said California had been “incredible leaders” in this field, “driving an economic transition not just for the country but for the world”.

There is still hope that such a bottom-up leadership structure will prove unnecessary. Top delegates in Marrakech still refuse to second-guess what the climate policies of a Trump administration might be.

At a separate event on Thursday, outgoing US special climate envoy Dr Jonathan Pershing emphasised that Paris had set the world on “an irreversible trajectory toward low emissions, climate-resilient growth”.

Asked about whether a Trump administration would pull the US out of Paris - putting it on a par with Nicaragua in a group of countries outside the agreement - Mr Pershing suggested it was “too hasty” to speculate on what will happen in January.

“We don’t know what the outcome is going to be,” he said. “The administration doesn’t exist yet, it hasn’t made a decision about what it is going to do.

“At the same time… We don’t believe it is in US interests not to be a party to this - we believe it is deeply in our interests. There are opportunities here to be seized, and responsibilities to be taken, and we look forward to engaging [in the Paris process].”

Erica Morehouse, a senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), said: “State leadership is going to be important given the election results, but none of us know what is going to be happen. We would love to work with the new administration if that becomes possible.

"Because of California’s size and the expertise it has developed, it makes sense that it has a lot of muscle in terms of climate leadership. It would be a big country in its own right.

“If [Trump] doesn’t recognise the influence of climate action, or tries to roll back policies, there are going to be a number of missed opportunities. But there is also momentum, and we’re going to keep going forwards in the right direction. It just may not be as fast as we could have in different circumstances.”

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