Will the US Recommit to Paris Climate Accord Goals?

March 27, 2019 by Dan McCue

Less than 24 hours after Senate Republicans shunned the so-called Green New Deal, House Democrats on Wednesday introduced a new bill, the Climate Action Now Act, aiming to hold the Trump administration to the United States’ original commitments under the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.

“The American people know the climate crisis is an existential threat,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during at a mid-morning news conference to announce the filing of the bill.

Flanked by several House Democrats, Pelosi said pressing forward with climate legislation was a matter of “honoring the will” of the American people.

“It’s about jobs, good paying green jobs. It’s about advancing our economy and our global pre-eminence in green technology. It’s about health, public health and clean air and clean water for our children, and for many of us it is a moral issue,” Pelosi said.

Under the terms of the Paris Accord, each of the 185 countries who have become parties to it are obligated to take steps to mitigate the effects of climate change in a joint bid to keep the increase in global average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Among other things the accord prescribes is reducing carbon emissions and expanding the use of renewable energy resources.

Under the Obama administration, the United States formally entered into the agreement in September 2016, but less than a year later, on June 1, 2017,  President Donald Trump announced the U.S. was walking away from the deal, asserting the agreement would hurt the U.S. economy and place the nation “at a permanent disadvantage.”

Despite the president’s stance, under Article 28 of the Paris Accord, the earliest possible effective withdrawal date by the United States is November 4, 2020, four years after the agreement came into effect in the United States and one day after the 2020 presidential election.

Days after Trump’s pronouncement, the White House clarified the administration’s position, saying the U.S. would abide by the four-year exit process, but since then the administration has pursued a series of policies that have undone many Obama-era climate change-related initiatives.

Sponsored by Representative Kathy Castor, D-Fla., the Climate Action Now Act directs the president to develop a plan for the United States to meet its existing obligations under the Paris Accord.

It also prohibits any federal funds from being used to take any action to advance the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement.

“Despite what President Trump has said, America cannot and will not retreat.  We will keep our commitments to fight the climate crisis.,” Castor said on Wednesday. “This is just the start of action by House Democrats in this Congress.”

She went on to explain that for her, addressing climate change isn’t just policy, it’s personal.

“Speaking as a Floridian who boarded up and fled my home with my family as Hurricane Irma spun its destructive winds and storm surge towards my hometown a year and a half ago, I understand we must act with urgency on the climate crisis,” she said.

According to the most recent National Climate Assessment, released in late November, climate change is already causing more frequent and severe weather across the U.S., and the country will suffer significant damage to infrastructure, ecosystems, health and the economy if global warming is allowed to continue.

The Lower 48 states have warmed 1.8 degrees (1 degree Celsius) since 1900 with 1.2 degrees occuring in the last few decades, according to the report. By the end of the century, the U.S. will be 3 to 12 degrees (1.6 to 6.6 degrees Celsius) hotter depending on how much greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere, the report warns.

By acting now, not only can the United States blunt the worst of the impacts associated with climate change, Castor said, “We can create millions of good-paying clean energy jobs right now” and “save billions of dollars in energy costs for working people right now.  

“We can finally address decades of environmental injustice,” she continued. “And we can respond to the incredible groundswell of activism from young people who are demanding climate action now as well.  

“They are the first generation to grow up in the climate crisis.  Now they are demanding the chance to be the generation that solves it,” Castor added.

On Monday, the GOP-controlled Senate voted 57-0 against a procedural motion to take up the nonbinding Green New Deal resolution, which calls for the U.S. to shift away from fossil fuels such as oil and coal and replace them with renewable sources such as wind and solar power.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky scheduled the vote to force Democrats to take a stand on a bill he claimed would outlaw “the only sources of energy that working-class and middle-class families can actually afford” and “kill off entire domestic industries.”

In the end, three Democrats, Sens. Doug Jones of Alabama, Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with Democrats, joined all 53 Senate Republicans in opposing the climate plan.

Forty-three Democrats voted “present” to protest the GOP’s action.

Many later accused the GOP of quashing debate by blocking public hearings and expert testimony about the consequences of inaction on climate change.

“Today, House Democrats are introducing H.R. 9, legislation to prohibit the Trump Administration from withdrawing from the global climate agreement and embrace the goals set out previously by the United States to promote a cleaner environment, technological innovation, and twenty-first century economic leadership.,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

“While the President and Republicans continue to deny that our climate is changing and that human activity is responsible, Democrats refuse to sit on the sidelines,” Hoyer continued.  “Our bill would restore America’s standing in the global fight against climate change and address the threats to public health and our economy posed by rising sea levels, wildfires, and a greater frequency of deadly storms.”

The Democrats’ announcement immediately drew plaudits from the environmental community.

“While Donald Trump and Washington Republicans continue to stick their heads in the sand, Congressional Democrats are continuing to make the case for bold climate action,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

“This legislation recognizes that the Paris Agreement is a critical pathway for tackling the climate crisis, increasing global cooperation, and amplifying and complimenting vital climate action legislation,” he said, adding, “Donald Trump’s attempt to withdraw the United States from this landmark agreement is one of his most egregious steps to weaken our country’s international standing.

“If Congressional Republicans are serious about American global leadership, they will immediately support and help pass this critical legislation,” Brune said.

Lou Leonard, senior vice president for climate and energy at the World Wildlife Fund said the bill “will reaffirm” the United States’ commitment to addressing climate change.

“The bill’s goals are broadly supported by the American public and leaders from across the nation,” Leonard said. “Leaders from both sides and from all levels of government should stand behind the goals of this legislation,” Leonard said.

“More than 70 percent of Americans support the agreement,” he continued. “It’s our best hope to do what the science requires and avert the worst impacts of climate change. Nearly 200 countries as well as more than 3,600 leaders from America’s cities, states, tribes, businesses, colleges, and universities have banded together to fight climate change through the Paris Agreement commitments.”

The statistic Leonard cited on Americans’ support for the Paris Accord comes from a June 2016 survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. It found in a survey of 2,061 Americans that 71 percent supported the Paris deal, including 57 percent of Republicans.

The second statistic, on the number of people who have banded together to carry out the Paris Accord commitments, is from the website of the We Are Still In coalition, a group affiliated with  the American Sustainable Business Council, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Center for American Progress, and other organizations.

“Climate change is already impacting Americans and increasing the security threats facing our country,” Leonard said. “Our leaders need to do all they can to meet this challenge and ensure America’s communities and businesses have the support they need to do the same.”

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