As the Bonn Climate Talks commence the world seems to be increasingly ignoring a US commander and chief who does not seem to have the faintest understanding of the most basic aspects of climate science.
At last year’s Conference of the Parties (COP 22) delegates in Marrakesh were reeling in the wake of the election of Donald Trump. This is in stark contrast to the euphoria post COP 21 when delegates in Paris were celebrating the momentous achievement of a climate deal. As expected Trump announced that he was withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, however, rather than unravel the deal, nations, cities, corporations, and others steeled their resolve to abide by the accord.
A G20 summit communiqué out of Hamburg Germany in July acknowledged the abdication of Trump but all 19 nations indicated that they are undeterred by the US position and to prove the point they recommitted themselves to responsible climate action. Now that both Nicaragua and Syria have signed on to the Agreement the US is truly isolated as it is the only nation on Earth that has rejected the global climate agreement.
This isolation is now glaringly apparent as the world convenes for COP23. As reported by the Washington Post, Trump and his administration are irrelevant to those gathered for climate talks in Bonn.
“There was speculation that the U.S. withdrawal might create some kind of domino effect, but in reality, this never happened,” said Anna-Kaisa Itkonen, a European Union spokeswoman for energy and climate action. “There hasn’t been a single party who announced they were leaving. Quite the contrary.”
The Trump administration’s resistance to climate action is not only being ignored by heads of state. The federal government’s position is being derided or ignored by powerful people within the US. Governors, mayors, and CEOs worth $6.2 trillion in US GDP, are at COP 23.
Although the US has withdrawn from the agreement it will be four years before that takes effect. In the interim, the US has a seat at the table. However, the official delegation of low-level functionaries from the US State Department and the EPA is both anemic and feckless. These US representatives underscore the disinterest of the Trump administration. To add insult to injury the Post reports that the US delegation will deliver a presentation touting the value of fossil fuels and nuclear power in a session focused on energy assistance to poor countries.
A US contingent of state governors, mayors, and business leaders are in Bonn to informally represent the climate aspirations of millions of Americans. The group includes the Ex-Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg and California Governor Jerry Brown.
“With Washington off to the side, California is going to assert itself because it has the experience, and we have the commitment. And we want to join with others,” Jerry Brown said in an interview. “So, we will play an important role as cheerleader in chief and also a collaborator…We can do a lot, and we can carry the ball while Trump goes off in another direction. But soon, we need the national government.”
“Trump is utterly isolated, and U.S. positions and negotiators will be largely ignored as a result. This has become a life-and-death issue for most countries,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House climate adviser, and lecturer at American University’s Center for Environmental Policy.
While the US is relegated to the sidelines the rest of the world is exploring climate finance, ways of ratcheting up emissions reduction ambitions and approaches to monitor emissions. They are also looking at the world’s forests, agriculture, and food systems. They are specifically exploring ways of managing emissions arising from land use alongside action capable of protecting agriculture and supply chains from disruptions due to a changing climate.
Against the bizarre backdrop of rampant climate denial from Donald Trump and the GOP, a new government report reiterates the evidence and is at odds with current federal government policy. The conclusions are clear and unmistakable, climate change is real and human activities are the primary cause.
The U.S. Global Change Research Program’s fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) was compiled with the assistance of the 13 federal agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA, and the Department of Energy, as well as academic scientists.
The 600-page US government report came to the same conclusion as scores of research that preceded it. Humans are the cause of global warming. It specifically reads: “It is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming…there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”
The NCA4 states that this is the warmest period in the history of modern civilization. It concludes that if we continue to emit greenhouse gasses global temperature could reach 9 degrees Fahrenheit relative to pre-industrial times. It says that the seas have risen faster since 1900 than at any point over the past 2,800 years with almost half of that increase occurring since 1993. The report concludes that sea levels could rise as much as eight feet by the year 2100.
The report also details a wide range of climate-related damage in the United States including risks from drought and flooding along with more frequent wildfires. This report differs from its predecessors in that it goes further in attributing changes in weather, especially extreme weather, to the warming climate.
In a section headlined, “There is a Significant Possibility for Unanticipated Changes,” the study authors outline the scientific uncertainty around things like feedback loops and tipping points. The report concludes that we can expect, “abrupt and/or irreversible” surprises.
The authors assessed a total of more than 1,500 scientific studies making it the most authoritative review of climate science ever produced in the US.
“This is good, solid climate science,” NPR quotes Richard Alley, a geoscientist at Penn State University as saying that this is “good solid climate science” adding that it has been thoroughly vetted and peer-reviewed.
White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah responded to the report by saying the climate was “always changing”.
The climate situation is made even more urgent by yet another recent report. The “emissions gap” report from the United Nations Environment Program indicates that even if all nations (including the US) were to honor their emissions reduction pledges (nationally determined contributions or NDCs) we will not be able to limit warming to the upper threshold limit agreed upon in the Paris Accord (2 degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels).
Global leaders have urgent business to conduct they cannot afford to waste time with this administration. The Trump administration has effectively made itself irrelevant.