Special COP23: The two faces of the US at COP23

The United States’ presence at COP23 is divided. On the one side, the We Are Still In initiative has established the US Climate Action Center to convene American city, state, tribe, business, and academic leaders throughout the negotiations to make clear that the representation of the US extends beyond its federal government. On the other side, the Trump administration has sent representatives to promote the cleaner and more efficient use of fossil fuels and nuclear power.

On Saturday (Nov. 11) at the America’s Pledge launch event, held at the US Climate Action Center pavilion, Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change Michael R. Bloomberg and California Governor Jerry Brown released a new report detailing US states, cities, and businesses’ climate-related actions that are keeping the country on track to meet its emissions reduction goals under the Paris Agreement. The report, presented to UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, is the first communication to the international community detailing the scope and scale of non-federal climate action following the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

At the presentation, Bloomberg highlighted the importance of the pledges detailed in the report: “The group of American cities, states, and businesses who remain committed to the Paris Agreement represents a bigger economy than any nation outside the US and China. Together they are helping deliver on the promise of the agreement and ensuring the US remains a global leader in the fight against climate change. In Paris, the US pledged to measure and report our progress reducing emissions alongside every other nation. Through America’s Pledge, we’re doing just that, and we’re going to continue to uphold our end of the deal, with or without Washington.”

The US federal government, however, decided to promote fossil fuels and nuclear energy on Monday (Nov. 13) at the side event presentation on “The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation” given by White House energy policy adviser George David Banks. The idea behind their stance is that fossil fuels will continue to play a central role in the energy mix as the world seeks to reduce emissions while promoting economic prosperity.

Many disagree. Protesters delayed the start of the event by singing a version of the country music song “God Bless the USA” with lyrics altered for an anti-coal message. Chanting calling for climate justice continued even after demonstrators were kicked out of the event.

COP23 President and Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama expressed his disappointment with the United States’ message: “I really don’t want to get into an argument with the United States of America, but we all know what coal does and we all know the effects of coal mining and of coal. There is really no need to talk about coal because we all know what coal does with regard to climate change.”

In response to the United States’ presentation, Michael R. Bloomberg tweeted: “promoting coal at a climate summit is like promoting tobacco at a cancer summit.”



(Image: Launch of America’s Pledge report at COP23, Nov. 11, 2017. Credit: COP23 on Twitter)