No Surrender: Paris is Now the People’s Business

The Paris Agreement is a very good thing for the United States—for its people, its economy, and for its sovereign interest in a world that favors both democratic institutions and peace.

Yesterday, President Trump declared open opposition to the intelligent, inclusive, innovative planning of a vibrant American future. He justified this decision using fake evidence, making false claims about what the Paris Agreement does, and calling for a new negotiation to achieve what was already achieved by 195 nations, over 20 years of consensus-driven global negotiation.

He may not have understood that he was, in fact, rejecting America’s best future, but this only makes his proclamation more irresponsible. This ill-informed decision by President Trump is a great national shame that is not worthy of the good will, ingenuity, and fundamental rights of the people of the United States.

That said, this tired, reckless act of aggression against reason will not determine our future.

It matters that Trump was wrong about so many details of the global cooperative climate response:

  1. The Paris Agreement does not place any constraints on energy production, sovereign decision-making, investment or economic growth.
  2. It specifically states that all implementation must be “respectful of national sovereignty, and avoid placing an undue burden on Parties”.
  3. There are already twice as many clean energy jobs in Pittsburgh as there are oil, gas, and coal jobs, combined.
  4. Clean energy, energy efficiency, and climate-resilient agriculture are the biggest job-growth engines now and for the foreseeable future.
  5. The 1992 Climate Convention—a ratified treaty—is Constitutional law, under Article 6 of the US Constitution.
  6. The Paris Agreement actually solves the 20th-century problem of mandates for the US with China and India “getting a pass”.
  7. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement can only be made official in November 2019, and can only occur in November 2020.
  8. The Supreme Court has found climate pollution control is required by law, and Justice Scalia wrote the 2014 decision upholding this ruling.
  9. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement now makes capturing new investment for high-efficiency low-cost energy more expensive.
  10. Cities, states, businesses, communities, innovators, and coalitions of honorable people have already declared their intention to ensure the US meets its Paris targets.

The Paris Agreement not only recognizes national sovereignty and national circumstances; it also recognizes the role of “non-state actors” including cities, counties, and states, the private sector, local stakeholders, and civil society. The role of these stakeholders in the design and implementation of climate policy—locally, nationally, and globally—is supported by Article 6 of the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The US Constitution explicitly requires that the federal government “secure to ourselves and to our posterity the blessings of liberty.” In our democratic republic, federal powers not enumerated in law revert to the States or to the People. There is no enumerated presidential power to divert taxpayer dollars to force consumption of products that damage human health or limit the innovation and economic liberty and justice that would otherwise benefit future generations.

Our government does not have the right to interfere with our national commitment to building a clean future of sustainable prosperity. I believe most Republicans already agree with that sentiment.

President Trump’s Rose Garden proclamation was not yet complete when dozens of US cities announced they would step into the leadership vacuum he was creating, and ensure the building of a climate-smart American future charges ahead. Across the United States, the evidence is definitive: cities and states with stronger climate and environmental policy have stronger and more innovative economies.

There is now a global effort underway to move toward the mapping and upgrading of “outside-of-government Nationally Determined Contributions” or “economy-wide national contributions” to achieve the Paris goals and to go beyond them.

  • Around the world, national governments have the same implementation problem Trump does: they don’t have direct knowledge of all of the capability already at work in cities and communities within their jurisdiction, or which might be mobilized with the right policy action.
  • This makes the role of local governments, business leaders, communities and cutting-edge innovators, all the more important.
  • Marginalized coal country communities will likely suffer more than the rest of the country in the dystopian world Trump says he wants to create.

To be blunt: if an outdated economy where no prosperity can happen without hydrocarbon combustion is imposed on the American people by force, it will limit every American’s access to scientific learning, innovation, entrepreneurial world-building, and liberty.

There are more jobs, more investment, more fiscal resilience, more hope for human progress and greater likelihood of securing the blessings of liberty, if we meet and go beyond the targets set by the Paris Agreement. President Trump has not “cancelled” US participation in the global climate response; he has simply made himself an irrelevant actor, diminished the power of the presidency, and put our collective future at risk.

We the People must now—as individuals, cities, states and industries—take responsibility, step into the vacuum, and get to work building the smart, climate-resilient future of shared prosperity, to which every one of us has an unalienable right.

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About Joseph Robertson

Joseph is Global Strategy Director for the non-partisan non-profit Citizens' Climate Lobby. He coordinates the building of CCL's citizen engagement groups on 5 continents, leads the Citizens' Climate Engagement Network and represents CCL in the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, UNFCCC negotiations, and other UN processes. He is a member of the Executive Board of the UN-linked NGO Committee on Sustainable Development-NY and of the Policy and Strategy Group for the World We Want. He is also the founder of Geoversiv.net and the Geoversiv Foundation and the lead strategist supporting the high-level climate dialogue series Accelerating Progress, Advancing Innovation.