The two-week U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP21) in 2015 marked the first time that all participating countries committed to cutting carbon emissions in a global climate deal; the Paris Agreement was born. It took years, and after final negotiations in Paris, the agreement was approved with claps, cheers and an extreme sense of hope.
Now, two years later, the U.S. administration has chosen to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, repeal the Clean Power Plan aimed at cutting carbon emissions and roll back countless other environmental protections. As 196 countries in the world coalesce at this month’s COP23 conference in Bonn, Germany, to discuss and strategize the rule book for implementation of the Paris Agreement, only the U.S. won’t fully participate at the federal level. Recent developments have revealed that Syria, previously not a participant in the negotiations or agreement, will sign on to the Paris Agreement at COP23.
Undeterred, Minnesota is continuing to move forward at the state and local levels to meet the Paris Agreement goals. Our state is a member of the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of 14 states and Puerto Rico that are committed to meeting the Paris Agreement targets. It is our responsibility to represent this American climate action happening on the ground at the international negotiations.
Several local-level delegations from Minnesota, and states across the country, are attending COP23 to show the world that “we’re still in” despite the Trump administration’s choices.
Having seen firsthand the impact of this international conference in Copenhagen in 2009, I recognize how crucial it is to have our organization and state represented at COP23 to show local leadership and demonstrate what true climate action looks like. Our delegation of eight Minnesotans represents young people, education, law, clean energy, philanthropy, government and indigenous communities. We’re sending the message that all voices are required to address climate change and that federal inaction won’t deter us. State-, city- and business-level commitments are taking the front seat of action. Our representatives from Minnesota will share their unique perspectives on how climate change is inherently personal in their lives.
As an organization dedicated to climate literacy and action, Climate Generation views the Trump administration’s climate science rejection as irresponsible. While inaction continues at the administrative level, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is telling us that not acting on climate change will cost us billions — potentially $35 billion a year by 2050, to be exact. The recent GAO study, requested as a nonpartisan report by a Republican and a Democrat in the Senate, states that the federal government has spent over $350 billion on natural disasters in the last decade. This doesn’t include the recent hurricanes and wildfires of 2017, which are forecast to be some of the most expensive in U.S. history.
The urgency of climate action is clear. Our infrastructure and economy can supplement only so much adaptive response to the costs of climate change: hurricanes, droughts, climate refugees, pollution, wildfires — the list goes on. Fiji, the host and president of COP23, is truly at the front lines of the most harrowing threats of climate change: Sea-level rise and intensified tropical storms threaten the loss of their homeland. This marks the first Conference of the Parties where an island nation is hosting and representing the necessity of action now. As a planet, we need to further advance mitigation strategies to protect ourselves and future generations.
On this front, there is hope. Despite the rollback of environmental and climate change policies in the U.S., the clean energy sector is booming. Here in Minnesota, we have over 57,000 clean energy jobs; over the last year, this sector has grown at a rate almost four times that of any other in our state. The renewable energy transition is happening, both on a local and a global scale. Solar power is now the fastest-growing source of all new energy worldwide, according to the International Energy Agency.
COP23 is an opportunity for the U.S. Climate Alliance and advocates to demonstrate resilience. Climate change isn’t a partisan issue; it’s a human issue. While the science will continue to drive the conversation forward on a global scale, it is up to local leadership and communities to communicate that “we’re still in” and our voices will be heard.
Nicole Rom is executive director at Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy. You can follow their delegation’s experience in COP23: www.climategen.org/cop23