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Finally, some good news: We can still meet the goals of the Paris Agreement

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the effects of the climate crisis, especially when governments are companies aren’t doing nearly enough to tackle the problem. But there’s no need to despair yet. According to a new study, it’s still possible to avoid the most apocalyptic scenarios if the world continues to lower its emissions. However, there is no time to waste.

Image credit: Flickr / IMF.

Back in 2015, virtually every country adopted the Paris Agreement on climate change, the first-ever universal climate deal. Countries all agreed to play their individual part to keep the increase in global average temperature to below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels — and aiming for 1.5º as a bonus.

It’s not an easy task. For this to happen, it would mean will have to peak soon, and the global economy would need to be changed quickly. Unexplored fossil fuels will have to stay in the ground, renewable energy will have to become the norm, our dietary habits will have to change, it’s a big task. But it’s possible.

Because countries have different geographies and economies, they have different roles to play in this challenge. Per the Paris Agreement, countries and companies have submitted individual action plans to tackle their greenhouse gas emissions — countries with big fossil fuel industries have to scale said industries down, while countries with rich forests, for instance, have to protect those forests. The goal is to have every country work on whatever would be most efficient for their own context.

The problem is that the agreement gives flexibility on how the plans are done, each one submitting what they feel is fair. This has led to slow progress of climate action. Emissions are still on the rise on a global level.

Cautiously good news

In a new study, researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder dismissed the possibility of the global average temperature reaching 4ºC to 5ºC by the end of the century, as previously suggested by previous studies. Instead, updated climate scenarios project between 2ºC and 3ºC of warming by 2100, they argued.

“This is cautiously optimistic good news with respect to where the world is today, compared to where we thought we might be,” lead author Roger Pielke Jr., professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, said in a press statement. “The two-degree target from Paris remains within reach.”

The main tool for climate researchers to explore and plan for possible futures are scenarios – forecasts on how the future might evolved based on a set of factors such as climate policies and greenhouse gas emissions levels. The most used scenarios were developed by the IPCC, a leading group of climate researchers from around the world.

For the study, the researchers looked at over 1,300 climate scenarios and compared them to the projected 2005-2050 emissions from the fossil fuel sector, as well as with projections from the International Energy Agency (IEA) to 2050. Between 100 and 500 scenarios matched with the compared data, suggesting global warming of 2ºC to 3ºC.

The researchers argued that worst-case case climate scenarios are much less plausible as they were developed more than a decade ago. Plus, a lot has happened since then that wasn’t expected. Renewable energy is now much cheaper than before, for example, leading to more countries expanding their use and reducing their emissions.

These changes are captured in the projections by the IEA, which provides updates every year, but not by the outdated climate scenarios, which continued to be used heavily by scientists. The commonly used worst-case scenario, known as RCP8.5, projects an increase of 4ºC to 5ºC by 2100, which researchers are now dismissing.

“There’s a need for these scenarios to be updated more frequently. Researchers may be using a 2005 scenario, but we need a 2022 perspective,” said Pielke Jr. “You’re going to have better policies if you have a more accurate understanding of the problem, whatever the political implications are for one side or the other.”

The study was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The Paris Agreement, five years on. Can we still avoid a climate crisis?

Five years ago, the world’s countries agreed on the most ambitious global climate agreement the world has ever seen, the Paris Agreement — an international cooperation to get everybody on board to tackle this monumental challenge.

Has it been enough? Not really, with greenhouse gas emissions and the global temperature still going up and decisive action still being delayed.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) celebrates the approval of the Paris Agreement. Image credit: United Nations

From the beginning, it looked ambitious, but shakey. A group of 196 countries (virtually all the countries on the globe) adopted the agreement in 2015 at the COP21 United Nations climate change conference. It is the first-ever universal, kind of binding global climate deal, which sets out a global action plan to put the world on track for avoiding the worst effects of global warming. But it also has no proper enforcing mechanism, essentially relying on national pledges.

Countries agreed under the Paris Agreement to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, while also aiming at 1.5º if possible — a half degree which would make a huge difference for the environment. This means global emissions will have to reach a peak as soon as possible, transforming the global economy overall.

Under the agreement, every country has submitted an individual plan (called “Nationally Determined Contributions”, or NDC) to tackle its greenhouse gas emissions. The tricky part is that the agreement gave each country the flexibility to tailor its climate action plan to its own unique circumstances. For instance, you want to encourage a coal rich country to reduce its consumption and switch to renewables, while for a forest-rich country, you’d want more emphasis on fighting deforestation. Every NDC is custom-made for every individual country, considering its unique situation, resources, and possibilities.

But the Paris Agreement is not exactly legally binding. It is a hybrid between some legally binding provisions and (most) other provisions that are only politically encouraged. There are no clear consequences or penalties for countries that fall short of their pledged goals, just international pressure, which is as abstract as it sounds.

Still, their regular progress is tracked and while abstract, this pressure is not entirely without power and some countries in the Paris Agreement are trying to hold each other responsible. Todd Stern, the climate envoy to President Barack Obama, recalls regarding the Paris Agreement:

“My team and I had been working toward this for seven years … and the story of climate negotiations had so often been one of disappointment. And yet here we were and we knew that we had – all together – done a really big thing. A very special moment. An unforgettable one,” he told The Guardian.

Where are we at now?

We are still falling short of climate action; very short. Since 2015 global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to grow, with a billion tons of CO2 added to annual figures between 2015 and 2018, according to the Global Carbon Project. This increase is mainly dominated by emerging economies such as China and India, but many developed countries are also falling very short on their proposed action.

In 2019, emissions reached a record high of 52.4 GtCO2e, mainly because of land-use and carbon dioxide greenhouse gasses, according to the recent UN emissions gap report. It’s the third consecutive year the UN reported an increase in emissions, warning over the expansion of fossil fuels and deforestation.

The coronavirus pandemic and the reduction in economic activity will likely lead to a 7% reduction in emissions this year, the UN anticipates. This pace would have to be maintained over the next few years in the absence of a pandemic to meet the Paris Agreement targets, something that seems tricky.

“I’m alarmed by the growing evidence of accelerating climate destruction and injustice,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told The Associated Press in an email. “But I’m also optimistic by the growing coalition to achieve net-zero emissions … This is a tribute to the resilience of the Paris Agreement.”

Countries would have to collectively increase their climate action threefold to be in line with the 2ºC goal of the Paris Agreement, UN estimates. Meanwhile, to be in line with the 1.5ºC target, they would have to do so fivefold. The world is now heading to global warming of about 3ºC based on the current climate pledges — and it’s not even so clear that those pledges are being upheld.

Illegal logging in the Brazilian Amazon. Image credit: Flickr / quapan

As emissions rise, so does the global temperature. This year temperature would reach a 1.2ºC increase above pre-industrial levels, with a 20% chance of exceeding 1.5°C by 2024. Breaking that limit would bring trigger all sorts of consequences on the planet such as further coral bleaching, heat waves, floods, and sea-level rise.

This year, which has registered record Arctic warming, massive wildfires in Australia, America, and the Amazon, and impressive Atlantic storm, will probably be in the top two or three warmest on record, according to UN estimations. Once 2020 is finished, the 10 hottest years on record will all have been in the last 16 years.

The anniversary of the Paris Agreement was supposed to be a chance to check the level of progress and raise country’s ambition. But the pandemic has disrupted meetings and negotiations on climate change. The COP26 climate summit, which was supposed to take place this year, was pushed to November 2021.

“Hypothetical targets are being set and big speeches are being given, yet when it comes to the immediate action we need, we are still in state of complete denial,” Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg said in an Instagram video to her more than 10 million followers. “We are still speeding in the wrong direction.”

Is there some reason for optimism?

The climate clock might be ticking but we can still avoid its worst consequences, and some countries seem to have understood that. Net-zero emissions is becoming a buzzword, as many leaders start making pledges to reach carbon neutrality in 20 or 30 years. This means transforming their economies into clean ones.

Climate experts are wondering how this will actually happen, beyond the headline of the actual commitment. Still, the fact that more and more countries claim to do so is a positive signal. So far, China, Japan, South Korea, the European Union (EU), and the United Kingdom have committed to zero carbon and more are expected to join the pack. Progress is slow, but there is some progress nonetheless.

The Paris Agreement has also proven resilient in some sense. US President Donald Trump announced at the start of his term that the country would leave the climate treaty, something that finally happened last month. Many feared the US decision would lead to an exodus of like-minded countries but this never happened, leaving the US alone and an outlier rather than a trendsetter. Furthermore, president-elect Joe Biden has vowed to rejoin the pact as soon as possible.

Even Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s president, who repeatedly said in his presidential campaign that the country would leave the agreement, was finally pressured to stay on. Still, he did a mess on a national scale with his (lack-of) environmental policies, encouraging deforestation through more cattle ranching and soy crops.

Niklas Hohne of NewClimate Institute, one of the partner organisations behind Climate Action Tracker, told The Guardian: “Five years on, it’s clear the Paris agreement is driving climate action. Now we’re seeing a wave of countries signing up [to net zero emissions]. Can anyone really afford to miss catching this wave?”

It’s true that fossil fuels, one of the main sources of emissions around the globe, are still alive and kicking and that we need more countries phasing them out. But renewables are becoming cheaper every day and are being embraced as a competitive option, with massive solar and wind farms opening up regularly.

Back in 2015, when the Paris Agreement was signed, former UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said coal plants were still the “logical choice” for developing countries. This has drastically changed, with the International Energy Agency, a conservative body, describing solar and wind power this year as stronger than fossil fuels — up to 90% of the new energy installed this year is renewable.

Image credit: Flickr / Robert Cause

But that’s not all there is. Institutions such as financial regulators and city authorities are using the Paris Agreement goals in their own policies. More than 400 public development banks pledged to align their activities with the climate deal, with a group of Asian banks that haven’t done so yet under increasing pressure to follow suit. Cities and major investment groups are also increasingly divesting from fossil fuels.

Cities have become massive climate actors. A recent report by the C40 cities network showed that 54 of the world’s leading cities are in line with the 1.5ºC goal of the Paris Agreement. They are rolling out plans to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, from cleaner public transport networks to mass-tree planting.

Who is doing what?

The Paris Agreement came into effect on November 4, 2016 — 30 days after at least 55 countries representing at least 55% of the world’s global emissions ratified it on October 5, 2016. Of the 196 negotiating countries that signed it, 185 parties and the EU, representing more than 88% of the global emissions, have ratified it.

The EU represents about a fifth of the world’s economy and last year accounted for about 9% of the global emissions, making it the third-largest emitter. Europe’s leaders see dealing with climate change as a way of highlighting the relevance of the EU.

The bloc has mostly lived up to its efforts, despite large variations between individual countries. In 2007, the bloc had a goal of cutting emissions by 20% by 2020. By 2018, they had reduced emissions by 23.2%, meeting their goal in advance. Now it has a 40% target for 2030, which experts still don’t see as enough, and hopes to be carbon neutral by 2050. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, the EU is one of the better performing areas on the globe.

Under the Paris Agreement, the U.S. promised to reduce its emissions by about 25% by 2025 compared with 2005 levels. However, the country is only on track to achieve about a 17% reduction. The silver lining is that this reduction is happening despite the country’s federal administration — not thanks to it. President Trump’s policies have accelerated climate change rather than slowing it down, and all this reduction comes from the private sector and state or local governance. Under an administration more interested in the climate, the US could easily accelerate its sustainable transition.

China is also a big player and a very important one to deal with climate change, as it’s the world’s larger emitter. It overtook the US and now accounts for 28% of the global CO2 output. The country is one of the most recent reasons for optimism, as President Xi Jinping said China would achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

Instead of having emission reduction goals, China has carbon intensity goals, which means reducing the level of C02 used per unit of economic activity. It had first pledged to cut its carbon intensity by 40-45% and it met that goal at the end of 2017. Now, in latest its NDC, it promised to cut carbon intensity by 60-65% and peak emissions by 2030. Research shows it’s on track to meet those goals, but whether they are ambitious enough is a different question.

Australia is also a relevant player. It’s one of the biggest sources of fossil fuels and the world’s largest exporter of coal and gas. Emissions of Australian exports account for 3.6% of the global emissions. Looking at per capita, Australians are responsible for four times the emissions of people living in the US.

The country hasn’t really lived up to its promises. It had a 2030 target to cut emissions by 26-28% but projections published at the end of last year suggested emissions will only be 16% lower in 2030. The country has moved away from most nations in the UN over the years, which have urged fast rapid emissions reductions.

Let’s also review the actions of the UK, which will host the next UN climate summit in 2021. The country has done mostly well on its promises, meeting the five-year greenhouse gas targets set in 2008. Right now, Britain’s total output of warming gases has gone down by around 45% from 1990 levels.

Now, as it exits the EU due to Brexit, the UK has just presented its new climate plan, which was described as ambitious but challenging. According to it, 87% of its electricity would have to come from low carbon sources by the end of the decade. Plus, almost half of the cards would have to be electric, compared to the current 6%.

What’s next?

As the world hopefully leaves behind the coronavirus pandemic, the expectation is high for climate ambition to scale up. This year was supposed to be a big one for climate action but instead, we’ve hit the pause button. Still, as we said before, there are reasons to be optimistic and keep aiming at that 1.5º target.

Today, countries will gather at the United Nations Climate Ambition Summit, an online event in which leaders from around the world will present new climate pledges or NDCs. It’s supposed to be an opportunity to use the gap left by the postponement of COP26 to maintain the climate spirit very high.

In 2021, we’ll hopefully more and more countries presenting more ambitious NDCs, in line with the Paris Agreement, and carbon neutrality goal. A world that finally decides to keep fossil fuels in the ground and truly push for renewables. A world that understands the consequences of what would mean not to take climate action.

“We don’t think it’s too late. We’ve seen quite a shift in the last years with mass mobilisations, with much higher awareness in the general public of the urgency and dangers of climate change. We now just have to translate that into the political will that we need,” Lucie Mattera, head of EU politics at E3G, a climate change think tank, told EuroNews.

While it waits for election results, the US formally withdraws from Paris Agreement

With its presidential elections in full swing, the United States has become the first nation in the world to formally withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. President Trump had announced the move in 2017, but United Nations rules meant that it comes into effect today.

Credit Flickr Matt Johnson

The Paris Agreement was drafted in 2015 to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change. It aims to keep global temperature rise well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.51C.

The delay of the US exiting the agreement is due to the baked-in complex of its rules, so written specifically due to the possibility of a country deciding to exit. In the past, internal US politics had influenced other climate pacts as well, such as the Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997. The Clinton administration couldn’t secure Senate backing for it.

No country was allowed to leave the climate agreement before three years had passed from the date of ratification (after at least 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions had ratified it). This happened on 4 November 2016. Still, member states had to serve a 12-month notice period on the United Nations prior to exiting.

“Being out formally obviously hurts the US reputation,” Andrew Light, a former climate change official in the Obama administration, told BBC. “This will be the second time that the US has been the primary force behind negotiating a new climate deal – with the Kyoto Protocol we never ratified it, in the case of the Paris Agreement, we left it.”

Although this has been long in the making, there’s still a sense of disappointment among climate diplomats and environmental activists, who believe that climate change is the biggest global challenge we’re facing and that the US should be leading the fight against it. The US now represents around 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“The decision to leave the Paris agreement was wrong when it was announced and it is still wrong today,” Helen Mountford from the World Resources Institute (WRI), an environmental organization, told BBC. “Simply put the US should stay with the other 189 parties to the agreement, not go out alone.”

President Trump had made leaving the Paris Agreement a key part of his election platform in 2016. He included it into a vision of a revitalized US with booming energy production, especially coal and oil. His understanding was that the climate deal was unfair to the US, allowing developing countries like India to continue using fossil fuels. As Trump announced the decision to leave the Paris Agreement in 2017, a number of states and businesses have pledged to continue cutting carbon and to try and make up for Trump’s decision. They presented America’s Pledge program, through which states and cities would help cut US emissions by 19% compared to 2005 levels by 2025.

Now, climate activists and delegates are worried that the US withdrawal will see other countries adopt a go-slow attitude, at a time when scientists are saying that climate efforts should be speeded up. Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Russia have shown a willingness to side with US efforts to push back on climate science.

“They are biding their time, they are saying that if the US is not in then we don’t need to rush to do anything at this time’,” Carlos Fuller, lead negotiator from the Alliance of Small Island States, told BBC. “I think they are hedging their bets to see what kind of a better deal they can get out of it, and not actually withdraw.”

But the US involvement in the Paris Agreement isn’t necessarily over. The country could choose to return, and Democratic candidate Joe Biden has promised to do just that “on day one” if he wins the election. If he were to do so, the US could officially resume its leadership role under the Paris Agreement in mid-February.

Food production threatens the Paris Climate Agreement

The expansion of intensive farming is jeopardizing the goals of the Paris Agreement, according to a new study. Researchers warned that the greater use of artificial fertilizers and larger populations of livestock is increasing the concentration of atmospheric nitrous oxide (N2O), a key greenhouse gas.

Credit Flickr Chanel Mason

N2O is released to the atmosphere from artificial and organic fertilizers such as manure. It is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2). The levels of N2O in the atmosphere are currently 20% higher than in pre-industrial times, with most of that increase coming from farming.

Artificial fertilizers account for two-thirds of the emissions of N2O from farming. The gas is released when microbes in the soil break down the excess fertilizer, particularly in over-wet ground where there is less oxygen. Farmers can reduce emissions with simple methods such as using fertilizer only when it’s actually needed.

Researchers from 48 research institutions in 14 countries created the most comprehensive assessment to date of all global sources and sinks of N2O. The findings showed N2O emissions are growing at a rate of 1.4% a year, faster than the forecasts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This means the world’s temperature is on track to exceed the 2ºC warming limit included in the Paris Agreement on climate change, the authors agreed. In fact, they found that the current rates of nitrous oxide emissions are consistent with 3ºC of global warming above pre-industrial levels.

“The dominant driver of the increase in atmospheric nitrous oxide comes from agriculture, and the growing demand for food and feed for animals will further increase global nitrous oxide emissions,” said Hanqin Tian, co-author. “There is a conflict between the way we are feeding people and stabilizing the climate.”

The study found that the largest contributors to global N2O emissions are East Asia, South Asia, Africa, and South America. Emissions from synthetic fertilizers dominate releases in China, India, and the US, while emissions from the application of livestock manure as fertilizer dominate releases in Africa and South America.

Emerging economies, particularly Brazil, China, and India, where crop production and livestock numbers have increased, saw the largest increases in N2O emissiosn. Meanwhile, those in Europe dropped in agriculture and the chemical industry. This was achieved thanks to the more efficient use of fertilizers.

Study co-leader Dr. Josep Canadell said: “This new analysis calls for a full-scale rethink in the ways we use and abuse nitrogen fertilizers globally and urges us to adopt more sustainable practices in the way we produce food, including the reduction of food waste. The findings underscore the urgency and opportunities to mitigate nitrous oxide emissions worldwide to avoid the worst of climate impacts.”

The study was published in the journal Nature.

Almost all countries are failing their Paris Agreement contributions

More than 175 countries signed in 2016 the Paris Agreement on climate change, seeking to avoid temperature to increase more than two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. Now, three years after, the world is far from that target, as countries are not being ambitious enough.

The Paris Agreement allows each country to establish its own climate commitment, specifying how they should reduce their emissions or what timeline should they use. It just asks them to set a target in line with the goal and then when they meet it, to set another and more ambitious one. But despite countries setting their own objectives, they seem to be failing to achieve them.

Climate Action Tracker (CAT) is an international organization that assesses the progress of 32 countries that signed the Paris Agreement and implemented climate pledges. Almost all countries are failing to meet the Paris goals, CAT said, and with the current commitments, the temperature would increase by at least 3.2 Celsius degrees by 2100.

But it gets even worse.

Not only countries are failing on their ambition, but emissions are also actually growing. Research by the Global Carbon Project said emissions rose 2.7% in 2018, mainly because of an increase in oil consumption. A growth of 1.6% was also registered in 2017, ending a three-year period when emissions had slowed down.

The worst performers

Despite the Trump administration announcement to leave the Paris Agreement, it will take at least a full year until the United States actually exits — at least. The earliest withdrawal date on November 4, 2020. This means that at least for now (and potentially even after that, if a new administration is elected), the US is still a part of the Paris Agreement. However, it’s doing quite miserably.

Climate Action Tracker said the US’ emissions levels are too high and its plan to reduce them is “critically insufficient.”

If all countries had the same policies as the US, the world would reach global warming of over four Celsius degrees, CAT said. The US is the second country in the world with the highest greenhouse emissions and is projected to pollute even more by 2030, according to CAT’s analysis.

Russia, South Arabia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are also considered “critically insufficient” by CAT, putting the world on a difficult path. Russia was one of the last countries to join the Paris Agreement and file a climate pledge, having so far made little progress in implementing it.

The largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, China has also not moved as fast and as ambitious as needed. The country’s actions are seen by CAT as “highly insufficient”, amid a larger coal consumption and rising emissions towards 2030.

Latin American’s largest countries have also failed to be as ambitious as needed. Argentina and Chile’s actions are considered “highly insufficient,” while Brazil and Mexico ranked a step higher as “insufficient” – with actions that would put the world on three Celsius degrees warming.

Europe is not doing all that great. Overall, despite notable efforts, the European Union countries are also falling short of their Paris objectives — though, not by that much. Preliminary data from 2018 show emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels decreased by 2.5% which is positive. However, Europe needs a touch more ambition if they want to assume leadership in addressing their climate targets.

The positive exceptions

In Africa, Morocco and Gambia are the only two countries assessed by CAT that are in line with the Paris Agreement goal of doing all efforts possible to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 Celsius degrees. Morocco is working to have an energy matrix with 42% of renewables by 2020, while Gambia is working on an ambitious reforestation project.

There is also a group of countries doing enough to limit global warming to two Celsius degrees, the second goal mentioned in the Paris Agreement. Bhutan, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Philippines, and India are all on that list, according to CAT’s analysis.

It’s very significantly that India, the third largest emitter in the world, is on track for a 2 degrees warming. The country is a leader in renewable energy and wants to only sell electric cars by 2030. While instability can still cause major issues in India, the country is on a fairly good path climate-wise.

Looking ahead

While most climate pledges are not ambitious enough, there might be a light at the end of the tunnel. The countries contributions are just a first step as the Paris Agreement says they have to be updated every five years – and when updated they always have to be more ambitious.

This year at the Conference of the Parties (COP25) in Madrid countries will finish the rulebook of the Paris Agreement and will start discussing their new contributions, which are due in 2020 ahead of COP26. Environmental organizations are pushing countries to aim at carbon neutrality – no emissions – by 2030.

But this will be challenging. According to Climate Watch Data, a group of 79 countries has said to be working on updating their climate pledges by 2020. But that group represents only 9.5% of all global emissions, which means further action is needed by the main polluters.

Trump begins process to exit Paris Agreement, ignoring climate emergency

Despite the climate emergency becoming every day more visible, United States President Donald Trump took the first step to formally exit the Paris Agreement, which seeks to limit the temperature increase to 2ºC compared to pre-industrial levels. The move was widespread questioned by civil society.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the move in a tweet Monday, the first day that countries could begin the one-year withdrawal process. “The U.S. is proud of our record as a world leader in reducing all emissions, fostering resilience, growing our economy, and ensuring energy for our citizens,” he wrote.

Trump announced his intention to abandon the agreement, which was backed by the Obama administration, in a June 2017 speech. In the two years since, every nation on earth has pledged support for the accord, which went into effect on Nov. 4, 2016. No country was allowed to withdraw for three years.

The Trump administration was required to send a letter to the United Nations to begin the withdrawal process, which now they have done. The process will take a full year to be completed, finalizing on November 4, 2020, right after the US presidential elections on November 3.

Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), said: “Trump’s decision to walk away from the Paris agreement is irresponsible and shortsighted. All too many people are already experiencing the costly and harmful impacts of climate change in the form of rising seas, more intense hurricanes and wildfires, and record-breaking temperatures.”

The Paris Agreement was adopted at the COP21 United Nations climate change conference. It is the first-ever universal, (sort of) binding global climate deal, which sets out a global action plan to put the world on track for avoiding the worst effects of global warming.

In order to do that, countries agreed under the Paris Agreement to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, while aiming at 1.5º if possible. This means global emissions will have to reach a peak as soon as possible.

Jean Su, energy director with the Center for Biological Diversity’s (CBD) Climate Law Institute, said in a statement: “Trump can run from the Paris agreement, but he can’t hide from the climate crisis. The silver lining is Trump’s Paris withdrawal will give the global community a break from his bullying support for fossil fuels.”

With the Trump administration’s withdrawal, “Donald Trump is sending a signal to the world that there will be no leadership from the U.S. federal government on the climate crisis—a catastrophic message in a moment of great urgency,” 350.org executive director May Boeve said.

What is the Paris agreement? A breakdown on its importance

What is the Paris Agreement? In a nutshell, it is the most ambitious global climate agreement the world has ever seen. Implementing it successfully will be crucial to avoid the worst effects of climate change. But implementing it is proving to be extremely challenging.  

United Nations and country representatives celebrate the approval of the Paris Agreement at the COP21 in 2015. Credit: Flickr

The world is heating up. We can stick our heads in the sand as much as we want (and many people are doing that), but this is happening, and it’s because of us.

A mountain of studies and reports have shown that man-made greenhouse gases are the cause for the current heating trends. Without massive changes and reductions in our greenhouse gas emissions, we are set for catastrophic climate change, which will affect not only the environment, but also our economy and even our very livelihoods. We are already seeing these devastating effects all around the world, and things will only get worse if we don’t act.

With this in mind, a group of 195 countries (essentially all the countries on Earth) adopted the agreement in 2015 at the COP21 United Nations climate change conference. It is the first-ever universal, (sort of) binding global climate deal, which sets out a global action plan to put the world on track for avoiding the worst effects of global warming.

In order to do that, countries agreed under the Paris Agreement to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, while aiming at 1.5º if possible. This means global emissions will have to reach a peak as soon as possible.

But things aren’t exactly clear and simple.

What’s inside the agreement?

Under the agreement, every country has an individual plan (called “Nationally Determined Contributions”, or NDC) to tackle its greenhouse gas emissions. The tricky part is that the agreement gave each country the flexibility to tailor its climate action plan to its own unique circumstances.

This makes a lot of sense. Take country like Brazil, for instance. It hosts much of the Amazon forest, which is a key part in reducing climate change. Deforestation needs to stop, and reforestation needs to happen — that’s very important for Brazil. Meanwhile, a country such as the Netherlands (much smaller and economically developed) should work to reduce the emissions of its activities and produce more renewable energy. Simply put, every country has its own unique economic and environmental situation, and the NDCs take that into account, providing custom solutions.

All countries have agreed to the Paris Agreement (more on the US declared withdrawal later on). The involvement of all countries means that both developed and developing ones are committed to working in climate action.

However, the Paris Agreement is exactly not legally binding. Strictly speaking, it is a hybrid between some legally binding provisions and (most) other provisions which are only politically encouraged. There are no clear consequences or penalties for countries that fall short of their pledged goals. Parties are, however, legally bound to have their progress tracked by technical expert review to assess achievement toward the NDC and to determine ways to strengthen ambition.

This fact has been considered a major drawback of the agreement. Having a pact, even one that involves all the countries on Earth, isn’t worth all that much when you don’t include the rules and mechanisms to guide progress and hold countries accountable. It’s easy to declare that you care about sustainability and want to shift to renewables (almost everyone is doing it nowadays), but without accountability, the results remain questionable. Without these strong rules and clear mechanisms, there’s the risk of all the critical commitments and goals becoming mostly big words on paper.

As well as seeking to limit global warming, the agreement also included goals in a number of other important areas like climate finance to help developing nations and transparency to ensure countries are living up to their promises.

The pact also includes a number of different frameworks to facilitate a technological transfer from developed countries to developing countries, and numerous projects to accelerate the transition to renewables.

Why is the Paris Agreement necessary?

It’s rare to have a consensus among nearly all nations on a single topic. But the Paris Agreement was an exception, because this is a problem that affects everyone on Earth. Leaders from around the world collectively acknowledged that climate change is driven by human behavior, that it’s a threat to the environment and all of humanity, and that global action is needed to stop it — though some did it with more ethos than others.

Taking action as quickly as possible is also vital. Climate change is the type of problem where a delay is especially costly. It is not like other pollution such as dirty urban air or a putrid stream — greenhouse gases hang around for decades to centuries, and the problem only gets worse. So, if societies delay revising our current practices the total amount in the atmosphere will grow.

Already, scientific information is showing that we have delayed action for too much and we are paying the price — delaying it even more would be downright catastrophic.

The general scientific view is that any rise in global temperatures of more than 2ºC would be an unacceptable risk — potentially resulting in mass extinctions, more severe droughts and hurricanes, and a watery Arctic. It would trigger abrupt and irreversible changes in the earth’s systems.

To avoid major changes to life as we know it, global action must be taken. Hence, the Paris Agreement, which sets the ultimate goal of capping global warming rise this century to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Indeed, the seemingly small difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees could have a dramatic impact on low-lying nations and coral reefs.

However, there are valid concerns that the Paris Agreement is just not ambitious enough. The 2 degree figure seems somewhat arbitrary and is not truly backed by actual science — but everyone can agree that it’s a starting point that’s better than nothing.

What about money?

Money has been a sticking point throughout the negotiations, as it is so often the case, Developing countries say they need financial and technological help to leapfrog fossil fuels and move straight to renewables.

Meanwhile, developed countries generally became developed by burning fossil fuels, so they have an environmental debt to cover up. Of course, when trying to bring different interests to the table, the solutions are never easy — this is why the Paris Agreement was had such landmark importance, because although imperfect, it managed to bring everyone to the table and get them involved, one way or another.

This is not a new deal. In 2009, developed countries pledged to mobilize jointly $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020 for developing countries. The agreement requires rich nations to maintain a $100 billion a year funding pledge beyond 2020, and to use that figure as a “floor” for further support agreed by 2025 — encouraging even more ambitious investments.

The deal says wealthy countries should continue to provide financial support for poor nations to cope with climate change and encourages other countries to join in on a voluntary basis. However, this has not been reached yet.

While climate change has slowly been on the rise, the $100 billion a year was, unfortunately, never taken seriously by developed nations. Recently, a meeting attempting to address this issue was “blocked across the board” by a group of rich nations led by the United States.

So what happened since then?

The agreement went into effect on November 4, 2016 — 30 days after at least 55 countries representing at least 55% of the world’s global emissions ratified it on October 5, 2016.

The agreement went into effect on November 4, 2016 — 30 days after at least 55 countries representing at least 55% of the world’s global emissions ratified it on October 5, 2016.

Of the 196 negotiating countries that signed the agreement, 185 parties and the European Union, representing more than 88% of the global emissions, have ratified it as of today.

Virtually every country on the planet has, at least statement-wise, expressed their support of the Paris Agreement, with one exception: the United States of America.

Under the administration of President Donald Trump, the United States expressed its willingness to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Contrary to what Trump and his administration claims, this hasn’t been formalized yet and when it happens it will take up to four years for the decision to be processed. This is an important aspect, but given the fact that the Agreement isn’t legally binding, if the administration doesn’t want to follow the Paris guidelines, they just won’t.

But it’s not that simple. Hundreds of cities, regions, and corporations in the US have vowed to follow the Paris Agreement regardless of what the administration wants. At a social level, Americans are also increasingly alarmed by climate change and demand action from politicians. Even so, many high-ranking US politicians are sponsored or lobbied by fossil fuel companies, and it is showing. A new report has found that US carbon dioxide emissions rose by 3.4% in 2018 after three years of decline.

The rest of the world is also falling short on their progress. Chinese authorities announced that they were making great strides in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, while Chinese emissions are growing slower than expected, they are still growing, and China is still the number 1 polluter in the world.

In contrast, European Union officials announced in 2018 that all member states had fallen behind on reaching their targets. The EU emissions seem to have peaked, but they should be declining at a rate that’s just not happening.

Few if any countries are achieving their climate goals. As a whole, the world is definitely not achieving the targets set in the Paris Agreement — and keep in mind, some have criticized the agreement as being not ambitious enough.

So, is the Paris Agreement enough to deal with the climate emergency?

No, and that’s the problem. As each country was able to make its own climate pledge, the level of ambition is far below what’s necessary to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.

With the current commitments, the temperature would increase between 3º and 4ºC instead of the required 2ºC under the Paris Agreement, according to the most recent analysis. That means countries need to step up their game — and they need to do it fast.

The United Nations is holding a climate summit in New York in September and is asking countries to present there much more ambitious climate pledges. The aim of the UN is for countries to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Following COP21, countries held three meetings in 2016, 2017 and 2018 to work on the rules and mechanisms of the Paris Agreement. This hasn’t yet been completed and is supposed to be done this year at COP25 in Chile, one of the big climate gatherings of the year.

Should we panic?

The world should definitely feel a sense of urgency, but we shouldn’t panic. The collective sum of our decisions is what brought climate heating in the first place, and the collective sum of our decisions can be what limits it.

Make no mistake — temperatures will continue to rise. We are already seeing this, and we can expect more of this to come. But taking action to reduce and mitigate these impacts can be extremely impactful. It’s up to each of us to bring this forth, by making sustainable changes in our lives, supporting companies which truly value sustainability, and voting for politicians which actually want to tackle the climate emergency.

World’s largest container shipping company pledges carbon neutrality by 2050

Despite being one of the most carbon-efficient means of global transport, marine shipping still accounts for 2/3 percent of the global greenhouse emissions. The industry’s big players want to change that.

Credit: Robert Lender (Flickr)

The sector wasn’t included in the Paris Agreement but has set its own goal to cut emissions by 50% by 2050. Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company, took the ambition a step further and vowed to be carbon neutral by 2050, sending goods with zero carbon emissions. This will mean developing new technology and compete with companies that aren’t bearing that burden.

The shipping firm now has 750 vessels in operation, some of which are hundreds of meters long. Maersk has already cut emissions substantially, spending US$1 billion so far in efficiency improvements — aiming at the intermediate goal of cutting emissions by 60% by 2030.

“The only possible way to achieve the so-much-needed decarbonisation in our industry is by fully transforming to new carbon neutral fuels and supply chains,” says Søren Toft, Chief Operating Officer at Maersk. “The next 5-10 years are going to be crucial. We will invest significant resources for innovation and fleet technology.”

It may seem like a long time before 2050 hits, but Maersk needs to plan ahead very carefully. Ships are manufactured to last 20 to 30 years, which means ships in service in 2050 will become operational in a few years. New technology will also mean developing a new supply chain to fuel the ships.

Maersk’s plan is based on three pillars: customers, cost reduction and regulations. The company is already working on a carbon-neutral option by using biofuels, selling the option to clients such as H&M. The Swedish clothing firm wants to be carbon neutral by 2040 so reducing its emissions through shipping is one way to go.

As part of its climate-friendly plan, Maersk is also focusing on reducing the amount of money spent on alternatives to fossil fuels. Ships now rely on fuel oil or liquefied natural gas and zero-carbon options like biofuels don’t work yet at the scale needed for container ships

“We want to accelerate the development of solutions of getting there and not just sitting on the fence and waiting for somebody [to do] something,” Ole Graa Jakobsen, Maersk’s head of fleet technology, said

Cleaner technologies that are needed to lower emissions haven’t been invented yet, which makes Maersk’s goals difficult to meet. The company is expecting for technology development to accelerate and to meet its target on a “business-viable” way.

At the same time, Maersk expects there will soon be stricter regulations on shipping emissions such as carbon pricing. If this actually happens, the company will be in a better position than its competitors which have less ambitious environmental targets in place.

But given the current state of affairs regarding climate action regulation, there’s no guarantee that rules on shipping will get tougher. Companies signed a climate agreement under the International Maritime Organization but there’s no system to enforce the commitments, so it’s all in the air so far.

Maersk has so far reduced relative CO2 emissions by 46%, which is about nine percent more than the industry average. There’s still a long way to go until carbon neutrality and achieving it will not only depend on the company but also on factors outside its control. In the meantime, we can only hope that Maersk’s plan will move ahead as planned.

How to save the world — a practical guide

There are more humans on Earth than at any other point in history, and on average, humans are living the best life they’ve ever had. With access to unprecedented global food supplies, unrivaled comfort, and the opportunity to travel all around the world, people have never had this type of luxury. But after every party, there’s a bill.

It’s not just because everyone can afford this type of lifestyle, as 3 billion people are struggling in extreme poverty, barely capable of meeting end’s meet. This particular bill is environmental. We are adding an unprecedented environmental burden, whether it’s through our climate-threatening greenhouse gas emissions, our habitat destruction, or our over-usage of resources. For the first time in history, we have to willfully limit our expansion and figure out ways to reduce our impact instead of increasing. Failing to do so will cause a permanent shift to planetary cycles and irremediable environmental damage — at best. At worst, it could bring about our very own species’ destruction.

In his book “There’s no Planet B“, researcher Mike Berners-Lee creates a practical guide for how each and every one of us can play our part in saving the world, ensuring that mankind can live on our planet without destroying it. It starts from the very small scale and builds up to the grand scheme of things, showing how changes, both big and small, are necessary to achieve this goal. Let’s have a look.

Maybe it’s because I was hungry when I first started the book, but I love the fact that it starts off with food. In hindsight, it’s a clever trick: it’s something we can all relate to, but it’s also something many people don’t think about when it comes to reducing environmental impact. Our dietary preferences and habits take a huge toll, and we absolutely need to consider that when it comes to sustainability. It also sets the tone for the rest of the book: here’s something we all do every day, and here’s what a big impact it is having — let’s try and improve it, but let’s be smart about it! The average person consumes around 2,300 calories a day, but as the world grows, in total almost 6,000 calories per day. So why do so many still go hungry?

There is no one single answer to that question. A combination of food that goes unpicked (for various reasons), inefficiencies in the supply chain, and biofuels are all, in part, responsible. The most important reason, however, is meat.

Plants convert about 10% of the solar energy they receive into nutrients, and plant-eaters also convert around 10% of the energy into edible nutrients. In other words, 90% of all the food ingested by a cow or a sheep are wasted. Of course, some of that is useless — we can’t really do anything with grass, for instance — but much of it comes from food humans could consume themselves directly. In total, a whopping 1,740 calories of the global 6,000 produced every day are given to animals. We barely get 10% of those calories in the form of meat and dairy. That’s why one of the most sustainable decisions you can make is to reduce your meat consumption — you don’t have to go full vegetarian unless you want to, just reduce it. Berners-Lee makes a compelling case for eating less meat (especially red meat), while also combating one of the most common myths regarding meat: that you *need* it. Pound per pound, soybeans have more calories and double the protein than beef.

Food can only get us so far, however. If we want to truly transition towards a sustainable society, we have to do much more, and a lot of that has to do with fossil fuels. You can beat around the bush [alalalaal], but no matter how you look at it, it boils down to a very particular point: we need to keep most of the fossil fuel currently in the ground to stay in the ground.

Renewable energy is a vital point, but if we develop renewable technologies while continuing to pump oil from the ground, we’re making things worse instead of better. This problem is well-known in economics, being observed among others, during the 19th-century coal age: the more people had access to high-quality coal, the more they used. Something similar might happen nowadays — add more energy from renewables into the mix and you just have more energy (and more emissions). This might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s something that does happen and must be accounted for if we want to truly transition to a sustainable world. It also hints at another important aspect: this is no easy feat, it’s a complex process which has no silver bullet. Just addressing climate change alone is a huge task, but doing that at the same time as conserving wildlife habitats and ensuring a continuously rising standard of living for humans is a whole different ballgame. It’s a challenge unlike any other mankind has ever faced, and will require a different way of thinking. Can that even happen?

Berners-Lee believes it can, but we all need to play our part. At points, he almost makes it look easy; when it comes to food, just eat less meat. Traveling? Use fewer flights. However, there’s a very important caveat to “There is no Planet B” — it offers an excellent guideline for what we *should* do, but do we really *want* to do that? More often than not, political will has proven to be the most important obstacle to healthy changes in society. We’re seeing that nowadays in the most pressing of ways.

It took decades after anthropogenic climate change science was essentially settled for a worldwide framework to fight climate change was established. The Paris Agreement, while a crucial step, is not overly ambitious, and only includes a “bonus” objective to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, although science has shown that it would not only prevent dramatic environmental damage, but also save money and resources in the long run. To make matters even worse, no country on Earth is on track to stick to the Paris Agreement, and the president of the US (the world’s second largest polluter and most influential country on the planet) has announced that he wants to leave the agreement. So while the world is making some progress, it’s not exactly taking strides.

That just won’t cut it.

The solutions are laid down in front of us — whether we choose to actually follow them is a completely different story. It will require a societal change of frame, a lot of work, and pushing politicians into the right direction. Voting for environmentally-conscious politicians (or encouraging existing politicians to follow an environmentally-conscious agenda) is one of the most important things you can do, argues Berners-Lee.

Essentially, this boils down to a matter of values. Values are a fundamental aspect of the transition to a sustainable world, and yet our values are not exactly aligned with what we need to do. Simply put, we don’t really seem to care enough about Planet A to make sure we don’t need a Planet B — but Berners-Lee is optimistic. Maybe just a tad too optimistic if you ask me, but that’s just what we need.

I’ve never had the pleasure of sitting down with Mike Berners-Lee but it seems like he’s someone who at some point, tried to be a cynic but just couldn’t. Whether it’s the dumpster-diving intern that brings him cake that supermarkets are throwing out, the polite yet firm critique of many of today’s environmental policies, or his desire to healthy social values, Berners-Lee seems like a pragmatic optimist — and it’s this attitude that he imbues to his book, too.

“There is no Planet B” is several things. It’s a guideline for citizens, politicians, and companies. It’s a starting framework for everyone who cares about climate change. But most of all, it’s a good book, which I warmly recommend.

In this article, there is a referral link to purchase the book. This means that if you buy the book using that link, ZME Science will receive a very small share of the book price. This does not do anything to sway our review one way or another.

France to Trump: ‘No Paris Agreement, no trade agreement’

The foreign French minister has warned the US administration that if they do back out from the Paris environmental agreement, this will jeopardize a trade pact between not only the US and France — but the US and the entire European Union.

The current US administration has been criticized, both internally and internationally, for its anti-science and anti-environment stance. Image credits: Jose Moreno.

Addressing the French Parliament, foreign affairs minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said:

“One of our main demands is that any country who signs a trade agreement with EU should implement the Paris Agreement on the ground. No Paris Agreement, no trade agreement. The US knows what to expect.”

His announcement adds concrete consequences to president Emmanuel Macron’s previous statements, which harshly criticized President Trump’s decision to back out of the Paris Agreement. Replying to Trump’s isolationist campaign, Macron said that it’s the planet we should make great again.

President Trump has announced his intention to abandon the Paris Agreement, which he considers “unfair” to the US. While he can’t do that legally until 2020, he has already implemented several policies that shift the US away from environmental progress.

The Paris climate accord is an agreement within the United Nations framework where countries pledged to address the global climate change threat and keep temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Within the agreement, countries set their own goals, called “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs). The Paris agreement only mandates that they must be “ambitious,” “represent a progression over time,” and set “with the view to achieving the purpose of this Agreement”. However, within those rather abstract limits, countries are free to set their own objectives.

To make things even laxer, there is no binding mechanism to enforce said contributions. In other words, if a country sets an NDC and fails to stick to it, nothing will happen to it directly. There will be only a “name and shame” and a “name and encourage” system. However, this isn’t a mere throwing of words. Should a country fail to stick to its NDC, especially willingly,  the “name and shame” strategy would not only affect a country’s image but also other countries’ policies towards it.

This is exactly what we’re seeing here.

France is not alone in stating that an environmental pact is a prerequisite for a trade agreement. The European Commissioner Cecilia Malmström‏, who is in charge of the European Union trade agreement, echoed similar feelings. Asked on Twitter where she stands on the matter, she replied “Yes Paris deal reference needed in all EU trade agreement today.”

Since the European Union is a customs union, this means that all countries have a common trade policy and a common external tariff, which means that this can jeopardize the US trade agreement with the entire EU.

As Nicaragua and Syria embrace Paris Agreement, it’s literally the US vs the rest of the world

After Nicaragua agreed to join the Paris Agreement in September, now Syria has also embraced the deal, meaning that President Trump’s US is the only country which intends to be outside of the deal.

Right now, the US is the only country which doesn’t intend to be a part of the Paris Agreement.

When the Paris Agreement was agreed upon two years ago, it was a landmark achievement. Sure, some rightfully argued that perhaps the deal isn’t ambitious enough, and isn’t truly binding, but for the first time, the world’s countries agreed on a common framework to stave off man-made global warming. All countries agreed on a national contribution and quickly ratified the agreement; one year later, only two countries hadn’t ratified it: wartorn Syria and Nicaragua, whose leaders said they want something more ambitious than the current agreement.

But something unexpected happened. Under President Trump, the US, which had been one of the key supporters of such a global agreement, did a complete U-turn. Not only did Trump surround himself with climate change deniers and fossil fuel lobbyists, but he took the extra step and announced that the US will exit the Paris Agreement. The official statement was issued in October (the same month Nicaragua finally signed the agreement) saying that the US would withdraw “unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favourable for our country”. International reactions were swift and blunt, condemning Trump’s decision and explaining that all the countries in the world can’t renegotiate a global pact just because one president doesn’t like it.

It’s not like most or much of the world is against the US on this — literally, the entire world, every single country on the planet has agreed to the Paris Agreement, putting Trump’s US alone against everybody.

“As if it wasn’t already crystal clear, every single other country in the world is moving forward together to tackle the climate crisis, while Donald Trump’s has isolated the United States on the world stage in an embarrassing and dangerous position,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, an environmental organization in the United States, said in a statement at the COP.

The 23rd COP (Conference of Parties) is now taking place in Bonn, Germany. Two years ago, COP21 led to the signing of the Paris Agreement. Last year, in Marrakech, the world discussed how to implement the decisions signed in Paris. This year, without a doubt, the main point of focus will be what can be done considering the current situation of the US. But notably, this year Syria also announced its intention to ratify the Paris agreement. While they have not sent the papers in, Syrian authorities have assured the UN that the country will support the environmental initiatives, to the best of its ability.

Trump has pursued a series of anti-environmental measures as President. Credits: Michael Vadon.

This means that technically, the deal will be ratified by all countries in the world. Despite his best efforts, Trump can’t disengage from the Agreement by himself. The earliest he can officially do that is in 2020, but the US has elections in 2020, meaning that he might not get the chance to do it at all. Still, regardless of these technicalities, the White House has made it abundantly clear that it has no interest in pursuing environmental and sustainable objectives — even if they are beneficial economically. The administration has shown that it would rather pursue dirty coal energy ahead of renewables, even if it means losing quite a lot of money and jobs in the process.

Scientists point out that with the current state of events, even if the Paris Agreement is respected, there’s a good chance the Earth might heat up by more than 2C Celsius. We need to step up implementation if we want to limit irreversible damage. Any backtrack can be devastating. We have decades of science documenting climate change and its dramatic events, it’s time for policy to follow suit. Now is the time to step up the implementation. With or without the White House, the world needs to continue.

India just planted 66 million trees in 12 hours

The Indian state of Madhya Pradesh has planted a whopping 66 million trees in a day, beating the previous record of 50 trees (also held by India).

Most of the trees were planted on the Narmada river banks, which is often revered to as “Life Line of Madhya Pradesh” for its huge contribution to the state of Madhya Pradesh in many ways. Image credits: Ansh Mishra.

It was a massive citizen involvement, as more than 1.5 million people from all circles of society chipped in to plant the 66,750,000 tree saplings in just 12 hours. In total, 24 districts of the Narmada river basin were chosen for the planting, to increase the likelihood of survival for the trees. The saplings were provided by different nurseries around the state and featured over 20 different species.

The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan was also a part of the event and helped popularize it. He attended four different planting parties, thanking everyone involved.

“I am greatly indebted to all who are planting trees today. We will be contributing significantly in saving nature. By participating in a plantation, people are contributing their bit to climate change initiatives and saving the environment.”

Aside from the main benefit of planting trees, authorities also want this event to raise awareness and help India achieve its ambitious environmental objectives. As part of the Paris Agreement, India pledged to increase forest cover to 95 million hectares (235 million acres) by 2030 — that’s an area as big as Pakistan and South Korea put together — and it’s pretty well on course for that. Already, the state of Kerala has planted more than 10 million trees in a single day, and Maharashtra will plant 40 million trees this year in a reforestation campaign. The country has a budget of $6.2 billion for this effort. It’s a contribution to the solving of a global problem.

Aside from contributing to India’s efforts towards reducing its impact and respecting the Paris Agreement, the trees are expected to improve the air quality in the state.

This isn’t something isolated, but it’s part of a much larger movement in India. The developing country has been taking strides in terms of renewable energy generation and improving sustainability. India, which is already the world’s 3rd largest polluter (after China and the US) still greatly depends on coal, but has been slowing down its coal consumption and focusing more on renewables. Solar energy has gotten so cheap in India that the country is expected to become one of the (if not the) largest market for solar energy in the world.

Despite Trump, 7,400 cities vow to meet climate committments

Despite Donald Trump’s announcement to exit the Paris Agreement, the world seems determined to make a change. At the first meeting of the “global covenant of mayors”, the mayors of 7,453 cities, representing 680,448,966 people worldwide have confirmed their commitments to the climate goals set before Trump’s election into office.

Atlanta has vowed to go fully renewable by 2035. Image in Public Domain.

Immediately after Trump pledged to withdraw from the global Paris Agreement, over 250 mayors representing 59 million Americans vowed to follow the Paris Agreement, bypassing the White House. This quick reaction proved to be a sign of things to come, as more and more mayors worldwide express ambitions beyond their own nation’s contribution. Many big cities want to set a standard for reducing emissions and implement smart technologies not just because it protects the planet, but because it makes economic sense. It’s also much easier to implement such strategies and technologies at a local rather than a national level — and this is where the Covenant of Mayors seems to shine most, with things moving “incredibly fast” according to participants.

Take Atlanta, for instance, a city where Mayor Kassim Reed has vowed to go fully renewable by 2035, in a measure unanimously passed by the city council. He emphasized that 75% of the US population lives in urban areas which could implement similar solutions to Atlanta. An engaged collaboration, facilitated by an exchange of ideas and transfer of technology could enable many cities to achieve their ambitious sustainability targets.

“Right now you have a level of collaboration and focus and sharing of best practices that I haven’t seen. I came from Brussels from a meeting of the US conference of mayors … and more than 300 mayors signed a letter reflecting our will to deliver the Paris accord commitments,” he said, adding that things are moving fast despite resistance from the White House. “My firm belief is that President Trump’s disappointing decision to withdraw from the agreement will actually have the opposite effect in terms of execution.”

“We have the ability to still achieve between 35% and 45% CO2 emission reductions without the involvement of the national government and it is why I chose to be here at this time to send a signal to 7,400 cities around the world that now should be a time of optimism, passion and action,” he concluded.

Reed isn’t an isolated optimist. The mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson, said mayors needed to be proactive and take initiative. He echoed the same Trump-Against-The-World feeling that’s been prevalent since the US President expressed his disdain of the Paris Agreement. A change is coming, whether or not the administration wants it.

“The Trump administration better watch out for US cities,” he said. “They are on the rise, and I think will prevail in the end, turning the tide, and making sure the US is a climate leader rather than what is happening currently.”

The European Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič, who co-chairs the board, said that the EU has no interest to re-negotiate the pact — we’ve already wasted too much time as it is. The time for talking has passed, now is the time for implementation.

“I have to say that now we have to be very pragmatic,” he said. “We work very closely with the states like California, like Washington, like New York and many others, and have a strong alliance … We are not going to renegotiate the Paris agreement. Now is not the time to negotiate, it is time to implement.”

While this is encouraging news which will undoubtedly propel the world closer to reducing its emissions, there is still one area in which the White House has the final say: and that’s the Green Climate Fund. It’s fine and dandy that mayors in developed countries are paying their due share, but without enabling the developing world (which is projected to cause a massive increase in emissions), that can only get us so far. The fund is expected to raise $100 billion a year by 2020, with the EU providing $4.6 bn, compared to the $3 bn agreed by the US. The fund was already falling well short of ambitions, and it’s unclear what will happen to it under these conditions. The financing of renewable projects in the developed world remains one of the big questions that require a quick answer.

Jean Claude Juncker.

There will be no renegotiation of the Paris agreement, EU Parliament tells Trump

The European Union will not renegotiate the Paris Accord for America’s sake, the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said yesterday while addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Jean Claude Juncker.

Jean-Claude Juncker during the plenary session week 29 of the EU Parliament, Strasbourg, in 2014.
Image credits Euractiv / Flickr.

In what was probably his most disappointing choice both internally and internationally, US President Donald Trump announced that the land of the free would join hands with like-minded Syria and Nicaragua — which actually rejected the Paris Agreement because it wasn’t ambitious enough– and withdraw from the Paris Accord. His long-term strategy, with ample air quotes, of course, was to force a renegotiation of what he feels are unfair terms of the accord — i.e. “China stealing our jobs, the world is treating the US unfairly,” hurr durr.

Which of course isn’t the case. Still, what’s done is done but it seems that the president overplayed his hand, as the EU categorically refuses any re-negotiation of the Paris climate agreement. Speaking to the European Parliament, Jean-Claude Juncker said that it took 20 years of work putting the accord together and mustering everybody under its banner — and that it’s time for implementation, not further talks. Basically, everyone knows what must be done and it’s time to get to it.

Not only is the US’ announced withdrawal a sad event, he continued, but also “a sign of abdication from common action in dealing with the fate of our planet”. In the end, Juncker believes that the US jumping ship won’t break the Agreement — rather, it will strengthen the remaining countries’ commitment and cooperation towards the full provisions agreed on in Paris. As one of the (if not the) most powerful single technological, political, and economic entity still in the accord after the US’ withdrawal, the bloc made its position clear on the issue for all other signatories to rally around:

“The European Union will not renegotiate the Paris Agreement,” Mr Juncker said according to the BBC.

“The 29 articles of the agreement must be implemented and not renegotiated. Climate action does not need more distractions. We have spent 20 years negotiating. Now it is the time for action. Now it is the time for implementation.”

Other officials echoed Mr. Juncker’s sentiments. The president of the Marshall Island, Hilda Heine, also addressed the Parliament and stressed the importance of keeping course, saying the agreements set in the Paris Accord are as good as they get and that “we don’t have the luxury of more time”. She added that the three years’ time before the US officially pulls out of the Accord should be used to convince President Trump of what’s at stake and the importance of climate action, and that Europe should set even higher goals for itself in the light of the withdrawal by adopting five-year targets instead of the current 10-year plans.

The EU Parliament also voted by a huge majority in favor of binding national emission-cutting targets in areas including transport, agriculture, and waste management on Wednesday. These areas are not covered by Europe’s emissions trading scheme and will further the Union’s efforts of cutting emissions down by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

All in all, Trump’s US finds itself more and more disconnected, furiously brandishing coal and oil despite huge internal dissent and as the rest of the world looks towards stronger climate action and green growth. The EU’s Parliament stance on the issue is crystal clear: we will keep our word given freely in Paris, with or without the US by our side.

Hawaii to ignore Trump, stick to the Paris Agreement

After over 250 US mayors expressed their continued support for the Paris Agreement, states are also starting to take action. The very next day after the governor of California discussed directly with China and pledged to follow solid environmental policies, the governor of Hawaii, David Ige, signed a bill to align Hawaii to the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Hawaii’s environment is under great threat due to climate change and invasive species. Image via Max Pixel.

Last week, President Trump publicly announced his intention to exit the Paris Agreement, the global framework to reduce emissions and limit global warming as much as possible. This has spurred an immediate backlash, both nationally and overseas. But the time for reactions has passed, and the time for action has come.

Hawaii is almost certainly the most threatened US state, in terms of climate change. A recently published study has concluded that climate change will bring nothing short of ruin to the islands, destroying tourism almost entirely and killing off the native wildlife.

“To lose coral reefs is to fundamentally undermine the health of a very large proportion of the human race,” said Ruth Gates, director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. “We’ve lost 50 percent of the reefs, but that means we still have 50 percent left,” said Gates, who is working in Hawaii to breed corals that can better withstand increasing temperatures. “We definitely don’t want to get to the point where we don’t intervene until we have 2 percent left.”

Ige feels that first hand. He sees the tides coming higher, the coast eroding, the corals bleaching, and the biodiversity shrinking. He — and implicitly, Hawaii — is in the first line of the battle against climate change; and he is not remaining idle.

“Many of the greatest challenges of our day hit us first, and that means that we also need to be first when it comes to creating solutions,” Mr. Ige, a Democrat in his first term as governor, said in remarks before the signing. “We are the testing grounds — as an island state, we are especially aware of the limits of our natural environment.”

“Climate change is real, regardless of what others may say,” he added.

Hawaii is already one of the more than 10 states that have joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition which has pledged to bypass the White House and respect the Paris Agreement despite Trump’s plans. By bringing this in a legally coherent form, Hawaii becomes the first state to officially pledge its support of the Paris accord. We’ll see if this triggers a domino-like reaction for other states.

Cali Road Sign.

As Trump alienates the US from the rest of the world, California Gov. takes up climate talks with China

In the wake of the US’s announced withdrawal from the Paris agreement, California Governor Jerry Brown met with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week to cement green Sino-American economic and technological cooperation.

Cali Road Sign.

“Where the grass is green and the energy is greener.”
Image credits Tobias Müller.

Five days ago, President Trump split the US in two different sides. While one half welcomes Trump’s announced withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, there’s also mutiny a’brewing all over the country following the commander in chief’s decision. The very same day as the president was holding his speech, some 12 US states joined together under the United States Climate Alliance, which has pledged to meet or exceed the targets set under the Paris agreement. The mayors of over 200 cities have joined in, and six more states have expressed an interest in joining.

And at the forefront of this resistance movement is California’s Governor Jerry Brown, a vocal critic of several of President Trump’s policies who, in keeping with his state’s green streak of clean energy and climate stewardship, has taken it up the mantle of reason and common sense by furthering US climate action. Earlier this week, Gov. Brown met with Chinese President Xi Jinping to strengthen ties on clean technology between China and California.

The Golden-Green state

While attending the 8th Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM8) in Beijing this week, Gov. Brown appeared alongside energy ministers from 24 countries and the EU. He reportedly signed several climate pacts with regional officials from the provinces of Jiangsu and Sichuan, met with several Chinese ministers, and hammered out a major agreement with the government to tighten Sino-Californian cooperation on renewable energy, zero-emission vehicles, and low-carbon cities. His delegation is scheduled to meet with some 75 more Chinese companies who have expressed an interest in working with California, so that list of partnerships is likely to grow longer still.

The impromptu climate envoy left no room for doubt in regards to his presence at the CEM8:

“The key to Paris was President Xi and President Obama meeting together,” the Los Angeles Times reports him saying earlier this week. “It’s up to President Xi to advance the ball. We want to stand behind him and make that possible.”

Brown’s presence made the polarizing effect climate change has in American culture glaringly apparent. Last Thursday, President Trump singled out China in his ‘leaving the Paris deal’ speech, blaming them for unfair play and conspiring to take away American jobs.

“They can do whatever they want in 13 years, not us,” he said. Which is of course not true.

And sadly it’s a gap that kept widening under the participants’ eyes, as Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s attendance to the Mission Innovation Ministerial on Tuesday and then at the CEM8 were marked by his advocating for the use of carbon capture, the benefits of fossil fuels, even going as far as to question the validity of climate science.

“I don’t even know why he’s there,” Orville Schell, director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society, said in reference to Perry. “This is like taking the Antichrist into the cathedral.”

On their part, Chinese officials made it abundantly clear in regards to who has their ear. While there have so far been no reports of President Xi meeting with Energy Secretary Rick Perry, officials welcomed Brown with the full might of their diplomatic protocol. Mr. Xi, joined by his top foreign policy officials, met Brown in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where they had a closed-door meeting for 45 minutes and “discussed cap and trade and solar energy growth,” LA Times correspondent Jessica Meyers revealed in a tweet.

It is unusual for a Chinese president to meet with an American governor in such a formal setting in Beijing. Mr. Xi’s session with Mr. Brown was covered extensively by the government-controlled news media. The state broadcaster featured it as the second story on the evening news, after a segment on China’s ambitions in outer space,

A meeting between a Chinese president and a foreign governor in such a formal setting is very unusual, and as such Chinese state media reported on the encounter with a language usually reserved for visiting heads of state — lending a lot of weight behind the talks. The session was covered at length and was second only to a broadcast of China’s space program. And, while it did not mention the Paris accord or Mr. Trump, Gov. Brown said President Xi never criticized his American counterpart. The governor added that it was “very clear [President Xi] welcomes an increased role on the part of California” in China-US relations even though the state is, ultimately, a non-national government with limited power and wiggle room.

Still, Gov. Brown may be uniquely well-tailored to the task of mending US-Chinese relations according to Schell, who’s also a biographer of Brown. He has engaged with Chinese officials for some years now, and President Trump’s recent actions left a void both diplomatically as well as culturally with the Chinese, who hold good mannerisms and mutual respect in high regard.

“Trump blew everything up in the bilateral part of the climate relationship in Washington, which had become the keystone of the US-Sino relationship,” Schell says. “America is truly missing [from the world stage],” he adds.

“It’s an opportunity for the state of California to take up the slack where Washington has dropped the rope. [It’s] big enough, and brassy enough, and interesting enough to actually be able to pretend to act like a country.”

At the end of the day, however, California can lead the horse to water but not make it drink. No matter how strong its economy, the state doesn’t have the authority to direct foreign policy, have its own embassies, or make the same agreements as the federal government can. For all his work at mending America’s standing in the eyes of the world, Jerry Brown ultimately cannot make any official, binding agreements.

Credit: Climate Mayors.

Mayors against Trump: 257 mayors representing 59 million Americans pledge to follow Paris Agreement

Credit: Climate Mayors.

Credit: Climate Mayors.

Last week’s disappointing decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement caused quite a stir around the world. News outlets were quick to point out how this insensible action is not only hurting America but the planet as well. All the important world leaders, besides Putin, condemned the decision and reiterated their commitment to uphold the Paris Agreement which is a non-binding, non-partisan, once in a lifetime framework aimed at reducing greenhouse gases and averting a collision course with 2°C of warming. Basically, Trump has positioned the nation against the rest of the world.

Things aren’t all that bad, though. The world will carry on just fine. China will likely take the reins and position itself as the next political and diplomatic climate champion. Countries like India or the EU-block seem to be on an unabated path to fulfilling their climate pledges. And even in the United States, things aren’t really all that gloomy. That’s because Trump isn’t a demigod which can control everything in this country, despite what he might care to believe. Citizens and businesses can and visibly do choose to act according to their own policies which benefit the environment. This can mean anything from a private homeowner deciding to switch to solar to a big corporation like Apple or Google meeting all of their energy demand from 100% renewable sources. It can also mean state and municipal-level policy because the federal arm is only so long.

“Mayors understand that it is a false choice … that you either can care about the environment and climate action, or prosperity and growing your local economies,” said Sam Adams, a former mayor of Portland, Oregon, and U.S. director of the World Resources Institute.

Mayors united against demagoguery for a better environment

Case in point, hundreds of governors and mayors have pledged to stand by the Paris Agreement values and objectives despite what the White House says or does. On the 1st of June, the day of Trump’s announcement, there were only 61 members in the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda or Climate Mayors — a network of U.S. mayors aimed at strengthening local efforts for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Only a couple of days later, the tally numbered 257, “representing over 59 million Americans in red states and blue states .” That’s quite the backlash!

The list also includes New York Mayor Bill de Blasio who signed an executive order which would see the city “commit to the principles enshrined in the Paris Climate Agreement.” The LA mayor did the same, as did Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto. This latter executive order is important because it’s essentially a slap in the face for Trump and his hole-riddled, shameful June 1 speech. On that fateful day, Trump said:

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,”  adding a bit later that “It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit, Mich.; and Pittsburgh, Pa.; along with many many other locations in our country, before Paris, France.”

Well, now you know what a person who was actually elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh would have done in Trump’s place.

“For decades Pittsburgh has been rebuilding its economy based on hopes for our people and our future, not on outdated fantasies about our past,” Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto said in a statement. “The City and its many partners will continue to do the same, despite the President’s imprudent announcements yesterday.”

The joint statement issued by the Climate Mayors reads:

“We will continue to lead. We are increasing investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. We will buy and create more demand for electric cars and trucks. We will increase our efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, create a clean energy economy, and stand for environmental justice. And if the President wants to break the promises made to our allies enshrined in the historic Paris Agreement, we’ll build and strengthen relationships around the world to protect the planet from devastating climate risks.”

“The world cannot wait — and neither will we.”

That’s a powerful message indeed, built around the wishes of their constituents rather than the vested interests of a gang of billionaires. This message was echoed by other town halls around the world, from Washington DC to Sydney. To show their support, hundreds of town halls were lit in green.

Why coordinated municipal action could be key to tackling climate change

After President Trump’s announcement, it’s becoming clearer that more action from behalf of private and non-state actors is required. Thus, it’s inspiring to hear about so many big companies working on their own to meet the Paris Agreement goals. But cities shouldn’t be overlooked — they’re incredibly important. A recent study found that if all cities of 100,000 people or more cut their emissions in half by 2030 after peaking in 2020, the world would achieve 40% of the emissions reductions. That’s enough to keep global temperature from rising over 1.5 degrees Celsius.

 

“Make our planet great again” — The world reacts to Trump quitting the Paris Agreement

After Trump’s announcement that he will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the world’s reaction was swift and scathing. With responses filled with disappointment, anger, or flat out mockery, world leaders have made a common front to defend the planet — regardless of Trump’s reckless decision.

Screw it

The Paris Agreement is basically a last-ditch attempt for the entire planet to come together politically and economically and work together to limit the devastating effects of climate change. It’s not perfect and it’s almost certainly not ambitious enough, but as you’d imagine, it’s never easy to get almost 200 world leaders to agree on something, especially something as complex as global warming. Besides, the idea was only to provide a policy starting point, with the market and other mechanisms doing the rest of the work. If we don’t take action together, globally, everyone will suffer — but Trump said “Screw it,” regardless of the consequences. Well, the entire world (aside from maybe Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who seems pretty happy) said “screw you” right back.

The German press was direct, as it usually is. But some took it further than others.

Not much more to say. The entire German Press criticized Trump, but this Berlin outlet was extremely direct. Image via Twitter.

China, the world’s largest polluter but also the world’s largest renewable energy producer, has expressed extreme disappointment at the fact. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, currently in Berlin discussing with European leaders, stated:

“Fighting climate change is a global consensus, not invented by China,” said Li, referencing a tweet by Trump in 2012, which claimed that China had “invented” global warming to “make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

Still, in a rare instance when the voices of China and Europe leaders perfectly coincide, he reiterated China’s support for the pact and said that with or without the US, China will continue efforts to reduce its own carbon footprint.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated this idea, saying that it will be a challenge for the other countries to assume the leadership formerly held by the US. Merkel called Trump’s withdrawal “highly regrettable, to put it very mildly,” but she too added that this doesn’t change anything for the other countries: “this decision cannot and will not stop those of us who feel obligated to protect our Earth.” Not only did European and Chinese leaders speak together, but the European Union also issued a joint statement with the African Union, in similar terms.

Elsewhere in the world, Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, said that he was “deeply disappointed” by the US decision.

“We are proud that Canada stands united with all the other parties that support the Agreement,” he added.

France: Make the Planet Great Again

But perhaps the most striking response came from France, where the newly elected president Emmanuel Macron rashly criticized Trump’s divisive and isolationist policies. Referring to his “Make America great again” motto, Macron had a different take on things.

Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement is a mistake both for the US, and our planet, Macron said in a touching speech. He went even further, raising an invitation to “all scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, responsible citizens who were disappointed by the decision of the United States,” saying: “I want to say that they will find in France a second homeland.” Previously, unnamed White House aides were quoted as saying that Macron’s words “irritate” Trump.

Bad for America, bad for the planet

Trump’s main motivation (at least the motivation he quoted) was that the deal is bad for the US, and doesn’t make much of a difference globally. Well, as the authors of the study he quoted themselves said, he misunderstood and misquoted the study. In fact, scientists have been even more vocal in their critique of Trump. Speaking to Scientific American, Jane Lubchenco, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University and former administration of the NOAA, said:

“Where to start? President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement shows a blatant disregard for the wishes of most Americans and business leaders, an irresponsible and callous dismissal of the health, safety, and economic well-being of Americans, a moral emptiness in ignoring impacts to the poorest people in the US and around the world, and gross ignorance about overwhelming scientific evidence. Far from “protecting America” as the president stated, withdrawing from Paris will make America more vulnerable and diminish its world leadership. It is terrifying that the individual who should be leading the rest of the world is so arrogant and irresponsible.”

Thomas Stocker, former co-chair of the IPCC and an environmental physicist at the University of Bern, Switzerland, echoed Macron — saying that this is bad for the US, and the planet.

“Trump’s decision to ignore scientific facts of climate disruption and the high risks of climate-change impacts is irresponsible not only towards his own people but to all people and life on this planet. The US administration prefers old technology over innovation and transformation. It is rejecting the enormous benefits and returns that leadership in the next industrial revolution — decarbonization — has to offer.”

These aren’t isolated statements — they represent a greater sentiment existing across all scientists, be they US and international. As for the US population — 70% of all Americans wanted to remain in the Paris Agreement. So if scientists hated it, world leaders hated it, and the people hated it, who does this make happy? Well, the US senators who pushed for an exit from the Paris Agreement are heavily on the payroll of fossil fuel companies — and they’re probably really happy right now.

This sets the stage for a clinched, uncertain future: on one hand, there’s international relations, environmental policies, scientists, and the population; on the other hand, there’s a bunch of US politicians and the fossil fuel companies. For now, in the US, the latter won the battle.

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Disney CEO Bob Iger resign from Trump Presidential Council after Paris Agreement withdrawal announced

Keeping good on his promise, Elon Musk has announced his resignation from Trump’s advisory team.

You might be surprised Elon was a Trump advisor in the first place — I certainly was when I first heard of this prospect. After all, the Silicon Valley has been anything but friendly to Trump, and their ideals greatly differ from those of the US president. But nevertheless, Musk (and several other tech tycoons, we’ll get to them) said that they can only make a change by sitting at the table. So they tried to make a difference from within. They failed.

It must have gotten Musk very angry, because he proceeded to tweet how India and China (blamed by Trump as the “big polluters,” even though the US is the world’s second largest polluter) are keeping their side of the deal and are much more ambitious than the US.

In fact, pretty much all of Silicon Valley’s tech giants tried to stop Trump from withdrawing from the Paris Agreement (more on that here and here). The CEOs of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, HP and Intel wrote an open letter to Trump, which he ignored.

“As other countries invest in advanced technologies and move forward with the Paris Agreement, we believe the United States can best exercise global leadership and advance US interests by remaining a full partner in this vital global effort,” the letter read.

But it didn’t work — nothing did. Trump made his intentions abundantly clear, and despite the international backlash and national uproar, he did what he wanted. Now, Trump’s inner circle is also starting to thin. Aside from Musk, Disney’s CEO Bob Iger also announced his resignation, and was retweeted by Elon Musk in a show of support.

It’s a matter of principle, Iger says, and he’s right. There is a deeply established scientific consensus on man-made climate change, and it is also becoming increasingly clear that we can protect the planet while also increasing the economy. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is not only reckless and unethical, it just doesn’t make any sense.

“Protecting our planet and driving economic growth are critical to our future, and they aren’t mutually exclusive. I deeply disagree with the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and, as a matter of principle, I’ve resigned from the President’s advisory council.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook, who is also an adviser, slammed the decision and said that no only is climate change real, but each of us has a responsibility to tackle it. However, no talk of resignation.

It’s not unlike Trump to go against what people are advising him to do, but there’s something highly symbolic in the US president shunning the leaders of Earth’s largest innovation center. It’s like he’s turning away from innovation, looking away from the future. Like he’s doing by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.

Fact checking Donald Trump’s speech — most is simply wrong, some is only misleading

Image credits: Another Believer.

Fact-checking Donald Trump should be a full-time job because the sheer audacity of his claims deserves some extra-explaining. The fact that he decided to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement, the international framework meant to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, is bad enough. But the fact that he did that citing fallacies and misleading arguments is even more disturbing. We won’t go into everything that was wrong with his speech because that would make a small novel, just the blatant things. Let’s take it from the top.

Donald Trump: “Before we discuss the Paris Accord, I’d like to begin with an update on our tremendous, absolutely tremendous, economic progress since election day on Nov. 8.

Indeed, the Commerce Department reported that the economy grew at an annual rate of 1.2 percent in the first quarter of 2017. However, that’s actually a decline from the fourth quarter of 2016 when GDP grew by 2.1 percent.

DT: “We’ve added $3.3 trillion in stock market value to our economy and more than a million private sector jobs.”

According to the Labor Department private sector industries added 697,000 jobs between January and April 2017. This is not only significantly lower than 1 million, but it’s also lower than the previous 6 months, when Barack Obama was president.

He went on to say that he will withdraw from the agreement but is still open to re-negotiate the agreement in a form that suits him or go on with a new accord altogether. World leaders were swift to point out that this is not possible. Jointly, France, Germany, and Italy said that this is simply not possible.

“We deem the momentum generated in Paris in December 2015 irreversible and we firmly believe that the Paris Agreement cannot be renegotiated since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economies,” the leaders of the three countries said in an extremely rare joint statement. “We are convinced that the implementation of the Paris Agreement offers substantial economic opportunities for prosperity and growth in our countries and on a global scale,” the three leaders said.

Of course, forcing the whole world to renegotiate something every time a new president gets elected is not the way international diplomacy works. It took decades of international cooperation to finally settle on one accord — you can’t rewrite it just because someone slams their fist onto the table.

Trump went on to say that US compliance with the Paris accord could “cost America as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025, according to the National Economic Research Associates.”

The report he quotes was written by two groups that have long opposed environmental regulation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Council for Capital Formation. Both groups receive funding from the fossil fuel industry. The report itself analyzes a scenario (40% reduction in greenhouse gas reduction) which was not stipulated under the Paris Agreement and was refuted by several studies, which found that it fails to acknowledge the new jobs brought on by the renewable industry. Several studies of a higher quality have shown that not only it is possible to increase the economy while reducing emissions, but reducing emissions doesn’t have much of an impact on jobs, because lost jobs are offset by new jobs in green technology.

Trump went on to quote another study, but clearly misinterpreted it, as the authors of the study themselves have stated:

“Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a 2/10 of one degree – think of that. This much….Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100. Tiny tiny amount.”

Trump quotes a 2015 MIT report, based on outdated figures, and takes it out of context. More recent estimates put that figure at 1 degree Celsius, or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. The authors themselves meant to say that if anything, the Paris Agreement isn’t ambitious enough and should be overdrived — not that people should back away from it.

“We certainly do not support the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris agreement,” said Erwan Monier, a lead researcher at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, and one of the study’s authors.

But Trump didn’t even bother to ask them. No one from the White House did, actually.

“If we don’t do anything, we might shoot over 5 degrees or more and that would be catastrophic,” said John Reilly, the co-director of the program, adding that MIT’s scientists had had no contact with the White House and were not offered a chance to explain their work.

To put things into perspective, even 0.2 degrees globally could make a massive difference. A 1 degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) can be game changing. Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute in Germany, says:

“Every tenth of a degree increases the number of unprecedented extreme weather events considerably.”

Trump went on to say that he loves the environment, which, after trying to abolish the EPA, saying that climate change is a “hoax created by the Chinese” and giving free range to fossil fuel companies regardless of environmental concerns, is a blatant lie. But he added that he also love the coal industry (which appears to be true), and the Paris Agreement “would effectively decapitate our coal industry, which now supplies about one-third of our electric power.”

The truth is, the US coal industry has long been in decline (like pretty much everywhere on the planet). The primary cause is, rather ironically, a competing fossil fuel industry — natural gas. Many utilities have been replacing coal plants with gas-fired facilities which are cheaper and easier to maintain, though in recent years, renewables are also taking a cut.

DT: “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Trump said, adding a bit later that “It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit, Mich.; and Pittsburgh, Pa.; along with many many other locations in our country, before Paris, France.”

Not technically wrong, this is very ironic. Allegheny County, which encompasses Pittsburgh, overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton in November — 56 percent to 40 percent. According to NPR, Mahoning County, Ohio (which includes Youngstown), narrowly voted for Clinton, 49.8 percent to 46.8 percent. Wayne County, Mich. (Detroit), went heavily for Clinton over Trump, nearly 66.8 percent to 29.5 percent. Furthermore, withdrawing from the Paris Agreement is not something which was demanded by local counties — quite the opposite. 61 U.S. mayors said in a statement on Thursday that they would“adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement. We will intensify efforts to meet each of our cities’ current climate goals, push for new action to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, and work together to create a 21st century clean energy economy.”

Trump went on to say that China and India should pay, not the US, because they are the biggest polluters. Not only is the US the world’s second largest polluter, the country is responsible for a third of all the greenhouse gases emitted in human history. Furthermore, China and India are transitioning towards a clean economy much faster than the US has. Ground zero is not now, ground zero is the start of the industrial age.

DT: “For example, under the agreement, China will be able to increase the emissions by a staggering number of years – 13. They can do whatever they want for 13 years. Not us. India makes its participation contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developed countries.”

China has pledged to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, which is 13 years from now. They are well on track and actually, China is on track to beat that target by many years. Also, Trump conveniently failed to mention that under the same agreement, China will generate more energy from renewables than the US will generate in total.

Again, dissecting the speech sentence by sentence and finding everything that was wrong or misleading would take a very long time and effort — and it would prove much else. Trump quoted two studies, one which was refuted several times, and one which he misunderstood and took out of context. He was way off when he presented figures (ie he said that the US contributed $1 billion to the green climate fund when the real figure is $500 million), and willingly ignored the many economic prospects associated with the accord. The entire speech was riddled with errors and fallacies and this decision could prove to be catastrophic.