COP23 in Germany Finds Consensus Minus One

The U.S. is Now the Only Country Not Committed to the Paris Climate Agreement

By Scott Greenler, November 8, 2017

The 23rd meeting of the Conference of Parties began on November 6th in Bonn, Germany to advance international climate action.

COP 23 Bonn Logo

The Conference of Parties (COP) is convened each year by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The agenda for each meeting of the COP can vary widely, and ordinarily, the agenda for COP23 in Bonn would draw little attention from those not deeply involved in the world of international climate negotiations. The main item of business set before COP23 is the development of a “rulebook” which would outline reporting and communications guidelines for reaching the goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement, as well as addressing capacity building, technology transfer, scalability, compliancy facilitation, and other implementation issues. Policy wonks call this type of work “getting into the weeds.” The meeting in Bonn should have been a tedious slog of rulemaking and revision for policy insiders.

However, any expectations for basic bureaucratic functionality were set aside this June, when President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. Suddenly there was a conversational shift surrounding the outcome of COP23. Would the United States’ decision to exit the Paris agreement provide an excuse for others to leave? Will the U.S. actively try to disrupt the agreement? Can the world keep warming under 2⁰C without the participation of the United States?

The U.S. is now the only country in the world not committed to the Paris agreement.

With Nicaragua joining the Paris Climate Agreement in October, and Syria announcing its intention to join the agreement during the Bonn negotiations, the U.S. is now the only country in the world not committed to the Paris agreement. Since the U.S. is the second largest contributor of greenhouse gasses in the world, the involvement of the U.S. in addressing climate change is incredibly important. But if anything, President Trump’s announcement of withdrawal has seemed to galvanize other actors, within the United States and abroad, to double down on their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This year, the COP was hosted by Fiji, one of the nations that stands to lose the most from climate change, as they are a small island nation at risk from sea level rise. The proceedings opened with a unified commitment to hold to the goals set forth in the Paris Climate Accord, but as the weeks continue, the world will be watching to see how the U.S. defines their position on climate.

Trump administration officials are expected to promote coal, natural gas, and nuclear power as the solution to climate change, while simultaneously, a large coalition of NGO’s, U.S. state and local government officials like California Governor Jerry Brown, and business and investment leaders such as Michael Bloomberg, will lead a de facto negotiating coalition of sub-nationals demonstrating support within the U.S. of the Paris Climate Agreement. This schizoid representation of the U.S. might actually be a very good indication of where we are at as a country. While the majority of U.S. citizens from every single state support the Paris agreement, our federal administrative branch opposes the agreement.

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Representatives from the U.S. are split, some choosing to accept reality and join every other country in the world, others choosing to deny facts, make a scapegoat of science, and bury their heads in the coal mines of the past. For now, it appears that the world will continue to address the threat of climate change with or without buy in from the U.S. Federal Government. How the U.S. will engage with the international consensus on climate change remains to be seen. The world is watching, and the U.S. is in the hot seat. At the very least, it seems unlikely that Bonn will be boring.

Scott Greenler

  • Program Assistant, Energy and the Environment

Scott helps lobby Congress to acknowledge man-made climate change and to act on climate change on a bipartisan basis. He helps FCNL track legislation and amendments relevant to climate change and create space for bipartisan efforts to address this pressing issue. Scott also works closely with coalition partners throughout the faith-based and environmental communities to create a unified voice calling our leaders to action.