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US cities, states vow to honour Paris climate accord despite Trump's withdrawal

© Alain Jocard, AFP | File photo, showing environmental activists forming a human chain reading "+3°C SOS" on the Champs de Mars near the Eiffel Tower in Paris on December 12, 2015.

Text by Monique EL-FAIZY

Latest update : 2017-06-02

Mayors and governors across the United States have said they will continue to honour the Paris Agreement, even after US President Donald Trump announced Thursday he would withdraw his country from the historic climate accord.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday that his municipality would “take matters into our own hands", calling the plan to pull out of the historic climate accord “a dagger aimed at the heart of New York City".

De Blasio said he planned to sign an executive order later this week maintaining the city’s commitment to the Paris Agreement. “It’s a sad state of affairs when localities have to do what the federal government should be doing,” he said.

“This is one of the interesting sides of the US,” said Martin Beniston, head of the Institute for Environmental Sciences at the University of Geneva. “States and cities have a lot of autonomy and they can go ahead with their own energy policies, regardless of what Trump decides in Washington.”

De Blasio was following the lead of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti who, last November, marshalled the mayors of 71 US cities into signing an open letter calling upon then-president-elect Donald Trump to remain in the agreement. He was even more forceful in an interview with Quartz, saying “If we were to withdraw… from the Paris accords, I’ll tell you what we’re going to do: we’re going to adopt it locally.”


Governors have gotten in on the act as well. California Governor Jerry Brown promised “significant action” if Trump pulled out of the accord. He’s not alone. In early May, the governors of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington all signed their own letter urging Trump to honour the US commitment.

“We stand ready as state leaders to continue to support the achievement of the existing US Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement and if possible to go further, faster,” the letter read, in part. “The policies we are implementing that support the US’s achievement of its Paris commitment not only cut carbon pollution they also create jobs, boost competitiveness, and bring clean energy and a cleaner environment to our citizens.”

“Maybe what these proactive states or cities could show is that you can actually make money by generating new opportunities,” Beniston said. “New technologies opening up generate new jobs and new investments.”

Bad for business

The business community has gotten that message, even if the president has not. Also in early May, 25 major US companies, including Apple, Facebook, Gap, Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Intel Corporation, Mars Incorporated, Microsoft; Morgan Stanley, National Grid, Schneider Electric and Unilever took out full-page ads in several newpapers featuring yet another letter, also expressing support for the accord.

“By expanding markets for innovative clean technologies, the agreement generates jobs and economic growth,” the letter said. “US companies are well positioned to lead in these markets. Withdrawing from the agreement will limit our access to them and could expose us to retaliatory measures.”

What it all means is another question. “It’s very important rhetorically,” said Bill McKibben, co-founder of, an international climate change campaign. “It’s a little unclear what it means for some city to honour the Paris Agreement, what it would do to honour it, what set of actions do or do not fit within it.”

More important, in McKibben’s view, is “the number of cities signing up for 100 percent renewable energy.” Atlanta recently became the 27th US city to make that pledge, and on Wednesday the California State Senate passed a measure mandating that the state will receive all of its power from renewable energy (such as solar and wind power) by 2025.

Trump can't derail the agreement, but he can put the breaks on momentum

The US is responsible for 25 to 30 percent of global emissions. Globally, 70 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions come from urban areas, so the efforts of individual cities and, by extension, states can have a significant impact on their reduction.

California and New York together represent about 20 percent of the nation’s population, as well as 20 percent of its gross domestic product. Together they account for roughly 10 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions.

The determination of cities and states to continue the fight against climate change will have a mitigating effect on Trump's decision to withdraw from the accord.

“Trump can’t utterly derail Paris by pulling out of it, but what he can do is put the breaks on the developing momentum,” McKibben said. “We’ll have to hope that there are enough cities and states that are willing to take action to compensate.”

Date created : 2017-06-01

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