America’s Leadership on Climate Is Still Strong

President Trump may be turning his back on climate action, but our cities, states, and businesses—and the rest of the world—are stepping it up.
A U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, D.C.
Credit: Cate Jackson/Nexus Media

President Trump may be turning his back on climate action, but our cities, states, and businesses—and the rest of the world—are stepping it up.

What happens when a country’s president goes one way and the rest of the nation goes another way? California governor Jerry Brown and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg are about to tell us.

Though President Trump is turning his back on the 2015 Paris climate agreement and pushing his misguided plan to put fossil fuels first, others are standing strong on the side of progress. More than 2,100 states, cities, universities, businesses, and investors have pledged to move forward to protect future generations from the growing dangers of climate change.

Together, this group—which represents about a third of the U.S. economy—can help the country meet our Paris goals, despite foot-dragging from the White House. On Wednesday, Brown and Bloomberg announced plans to document the progress in cutting the nation’s carbon footprint. They’ll present those gains this fall to the United Nations, which is tracking the cuts globally as part of the follow-up to the Paris Agreement.

To be clear, this is what our president should do. That others have to step up to fill the leadership vacuum created by Trump’s fealty to fossil fuels is a breathtaking indictment of how far out of step he’s become with public sentiment, sound science, and the global march toward cleaner, smarter ways to power our future.

Here’s Brown and Bloomberg’s bottom line: Trump won’t stop the United States from keeping our promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions at least 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. This is vital work. It says to the world, We won’t give up, as a nation, on the environmental fight of our lifetime. We won’t give up on our children’s future.

The world, we know, is listening.

Over just the past week, Volvo said it would phase out gasoline-only automobiles by 2019, while France vowed to ban them entirely by 2040. And Tesla rolled out the first of its new Model 3, at $35,000, the electric automaker’s first truly mass-market car.

As the world begins to pull over its gas-guzzlers to the side of the road, Trump insists he’s found the future in the rearview mirror. Just six months in office, he and his administration have done all they can to throw U.S. energy policy into reverse, slam the brakes on the progress we’re making with efficiency and renewable power, and toss the promise of millions of good-paying jobs out the window.

In the process, he’s isolated our country among the nations allied in the fight against climate change. He was alone among world leaders at last week’s G20 summit in Germany, as “the leaders of the other G20 members state that the Paris Agreement is irreversible,” declares the official summit statement, going on to lay out an assertive set of policy guidelines for staying the course on reducing fossil fuel use.

Together, the G20 members represent two-thirds of the world’s population and about 80 percent of global economic activity. The United States has long been the group’s driving force and central actor. For Trump to have put our country out of sync with the G20 took some doing and has resulted in real damage to our ability, as a nation, to influence events and outcomes that bear directly, and concretely, on American interests, environmental and otherwise.

There’s a limit, though, to just how much damage one man can do. A decade ago, the U.S. Conference of Mayors drew up a forward-leaning climate-protection agreement that calls for sharp reductions in the dangerous carbon pollution that’s driving climate change. That’s important work. One way or another, cities account for roughly two-thirds of global energy use—and carbon pollution.

More than 350 mayors, from Seattle to Allentown to Little Rock to Atlanta, have pledged to abide by the spirit of the Paris Agreement and work to reduce their city’s carbon footprint. “If the federal government doesn’t act, it doesn’t mean we don’t have a national policy,” New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu said in Miami last month at the Conference of Mayors’ annual meeting. “Mayors have to respond to circumstances. We have to keep moving no matter what.”

About 1,650 businesses and investors are on board as well, ranging from Amazon and Walmart to Apple and Zipcar. And Brown, who is leading California’s efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, is hosting a global climate summit in San Francisco next year.

Trump is racing to take the country backwards, to anchor our future in the dirty fuels of the past. The shift to cleaner ways to power our progress, though, is moving forward, thanks to the vision of people like Michael Bloomberg, Jerry Brown, and the thousands of other climate leaders hard at work from coast to coast standing up for our children’s future.

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