From the Hill: Season of Creation

Three months have now passed since the administration announced its intention to withdraw from the global climate accord known as the Paris Climate Agreement.

This international climate agreement seeks to form a global plan to reduce the world’s contributions to climate change and ensure climate justice for those most vulnerable to its impacts, which include environmental degradation, drought, and increased natural disasters.

The United States’ withdrawal left the world reeling. The result of years of negotiations, the Paris Agreement represents a critical way to address climate change globally. Columbans around the world expressed their extreme disappointment in this decision, which reflected a lack of commitment and leadership on the part of the U.S. administration to tackle one of the most pressing challenges to our world today.

At the United Nations General Assembly this week, the administration reiterated its position of withdrawal unless the agreement is renegotiated to be ‘more favorable’ to the United States. No such renegotiation plans have been announced.

Action to Address Climate Change (or Lack Thereof)

The decision to exit the Paris Climate Agreement was not the president’s first action on the environment. Leading up to this announcement, the administration took several measures that negatively impact the environment. In his first weeks as president, he signed an executive order aiming to eliminate the Clean Power Plan. This plan was critical to the United States’ contribution to the reduction in global temperature that the Paris Agreement called for.

In addition, at the direction of the administration, the Department of Energy began exploring the extraction of off-shore resources such as oil. Billed as a ‘boost to the economy’, the damage off-shore drilling would wreak on the ecology of the oceans would be detrimental and long-lasting.

This increase in the use of extractive industries is especially concerning for the Columbans, as these methods irrevocably damage the environment and disproportionately affect the vulnerable communities where these industries are often located.

Direct Cuts to Federal Environmental Programming

The current administration and Congress have also proposed deep and damaging spending cuts to environmental initiatives in the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and the State Department through the federal budget process.

For example, vulnerable communities both at home and abroad are depending on the enacted appropriations for fiscal year 2018 to continue contributing to global climate funds that aim to increase climate resilience and adaptation. In the current proposed budget, the Green Climate Fund, a crucial and innovative vehicle for addressing the impacts of climate change, would lose all funding by the United States.

This particular fund allows developing nations to access monetary funds to create climate-safe infrastructure. This can include developing sanitary facilities, climate-safe walls or flood protection devices, and even provide clean water tanks to those in need. Without the Green Climate Fund, developing and small island nations, a number of which Columbans serve, will have an extremely difficult time establishing programs designed to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Domestic Response

In multiple campaigns and efforts in response to this announcement, cities, states, governors, companies, and educational institutions have expressed overwhelming support to fulfill the obligations set forth by the Paris Climate Accord. After the administration’s announcement to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, these groups signed an open letter establishing a collective effort to ensure climate justice.

This campaign now represents 120 million Americans and $6.2 trillion of the U.S. economy and demonstrates how at least a third of the people in the United States is still committed to the Paris Agreement.[1]

States and cities around the United States have also stepped up in the absence of federal action. Hawaii, for example, became the first state to pass legislation to legally support the Paris Accord.[2] As a Pacific Island nation, Hawaii is considerably vulnerable to the effects of climate change, increasing the importance of strong climate resilience for its citizens.

California is also fighting back. In an effort to bring together leaders of states, cities, and businesses to curb greenhouse gas emission domestically, California will hold a nationwide summit to try to ensure that the United States’ original climate goals are met.[3]

International Response

Inaction on climate justice from the United States federal government carries negative effects domestically as well as globally. Due to the administration’s decision to exit the Paris Agreement, and most recently the decision to not reaffirm the commitments of climate justice at the G20 summit,[4] the world is left without one of the most influential climate leaders.

In this void, nations like France have decided to hold conferences on climate finance in December. In these efforts, global leaders will come together to address how to continue supporting developing nations in their efforts to adapt to the impacts of climate change with a decreasing international climate budget.

In addition, China, the European Union, and many other nations have reaffirmed their commitments to the Paris Agreement.[5]

What Does This Mean for the Future of International Climate Action?

The administration’s decision to begin the process of withdrawal from the Paris Agreement demonstrates a short-sighted abdication of responsibility. As one of the world’s largest contributors to climate change, we cannot simply ignore our role in the impacts of climate change on the world’s most vulnerable, including those here in the U.S. As the impacts of climate change play out regardless of borders, so must our action to address them.

The reaffirmation from domestic, global, and faith leaders of the importance of working for international climate justice shows the depth of commitment to act on climate. The Columbans across the world will continue working to ensure all, including creation, have access to a full, dignified life.

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[1] Open letter to the international community and parties to the Paris Agreement from U.S. state, local, and business leaders. (June 5, 2017) Accessed: July 27, 2017. Web Address: http://wearestillin.com/

[2] Mettler, Katie. ‘Malama Honua,’ Hawaii says, as it becomes first state to pass laws supporting Paris Accord. (The Washington Post: Washington D.C., June 7, 2017) Accessed: July 27, 2017. Web Address: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/06/07/malama-hon...

[3] Friedman, Lisa. Jerry Brown Announces a Climate Summit Meeting in California. (New York Times: New York, July 6, 2017). Accessed: July 27, 2017. Web Address: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/06/climate/jerry-brown-california-climat...

[4] Erlanger, Steven & Julie Hirschfeld Davis. Once Dominant, the United States Finds Itself Isolated at G-20. (New York Times: New York, July 7, 2017). Accessed: July 27. 2017. Wed Address: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/07/world/europe/trump-g-20-trade-climate...

[5] Moore, Mark. China and EU reaffirm their commitment to Paris climate deal. (New York Post: New York, June 1, 2017) Accessed: July 27, 2017. Web Address: http://nypost.com/2017/06/01/china-and-eu-reaffirm-their-commitment-to-p...