Have we ever witnessed a bigger unintended consequence?
It was, no doubt, incomprehensible for the U.S. to begin the process of pulling out of the UN Paris Climate Agreement, for all the reasons widely reported since President Donald Trump made the fateful announcement June 1st.
The move undermines our reputation and relations overseas, risks weakening other countries’ commitment to the accord, and threatens to set back the booming green economy and job creation in this country.
But then the following week ensued, and America was redeemed. No fewer than two historic initiatives were announced to ensure the United States remains, if not a signatory to the December 2015 deal, certainly a player bent on meeting the carbon target to which the country committed.
First came the United States Climate Alliance, launched that same afternoon on June 1st by the governors of California, Washington state and New York, and since grown to 10 states representing 102 million people.
Most of those states are also members of We Are Still In, a bigger initiative spearheaded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and also including nearly 200 cities equally committed to upholding the U.S. commitment, along with roughly 800 universities, corporations and investors, “no matter what policies Washington [D.C.] may adopt.”
On its website and in public statements by Bloomberg, We Are Still In assures that Trump’s decision will move these players to step up their decarbonization efforts to meet the national goal, even if other states and cities do not participate.
Where the Paris Agreement relies on each country’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), which are voluntary, We Are Still In pledges a Societal Nationally Determined Contribution (SNDC).
To be sure, the Paris withdrawal process takes three years, so Trump can’t pull out until 2020 at the earliest. Between now and then, he might be removed from office and the next president reeverse Trump’s decision. Or these counter moves by governors, mayors and companies may grow so popular and prove so effective that even Trump might be persuaded or pressured to rescind, particularly as the next election cycle kicks in. Or the candidate elected in 2020 will reinstate the U.S. immediately upon taking office.
If the Climate Alliance and We Are Still In hold fort between now and then, we would have witnessed one of the most inspiring examples of American resistance in our history.
There is yet another unintended happy consequence. Trump’s Paris decision will likely serve to significantly accelerate the country’s and the world’s shift from a decarbonization-centered approach to one focused on climate adaptation and resilience.
Given how fast global temperatures are rising and the increasingly recognized certainty that no amount of decarbonization will keep the world from surpassing the 1.5 degree and 2.0 degree Celsius threshold as early as the 2030s, that will be the best consequence of all.