The World at 1°C — Bad Governments (June ‘17)

Part 2 of our essential climate justice summary of the past month

Far and away the biggest event in climate change geopolitics in the past month was the predictable announcement by Donald Trump that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

It’s Donald Trump Vs. The World

The news was greeted with a variety of responses from almost every imaginable quarter. Climate justice movements around the world vowed to continue their struggles to hold all governments to account over climate change and to do everything they can to secure a just transition away from the inequitable carbon economy, while even liberal comedian John Oliver felt the need to dedicate an entire segment of his show to critiquing the decision.

The many barefaced lies in Trump’s justification were pointed out, often in great detail, and the well-documented history of the U.S. as the primary blocker of progress on climate change was highlighted. One of the principal justifications used by Trump was that the Paris Agreement was unfairly stacked against the U.S., particularly in regards to the economy. Nothing could be further from the truth: the Paris Agreement does not actually require the U.S. to reduce its emissions or specify how much (if any) financial support it should give to developing countries. Nor does it require the closure of coal plants — that will continue to happen irrespective of anything — and it does not give China any economic advantage over the U.S. If anything, the opposite could be said.

The black line indicated the countries’ climate pledges while the green bars represent the fair amount of emissions reductions they would have to undertake to limit warming to 1.5°C. The U.S. had pledged to do about 20% of its fair share while China has pledged to do more than its share. Source: CSO Equity Review of NDCs.

In fact, due to the absolute insistence of the U.S. the Paris Agreement explicitly “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation” for the major polluters, of which the U.S. is the largest of all time. (Yet as Part 4 of this month’s World at 1°C will explore, that might not rule out domestic litigation against the climate criminals in government.)

While dressing up his approach to the environment with a veneer of narrow self-interest that might appeal to his base, Trump is actually undermining even his own country’s ability to adapt to the worsening climate change which he is hell bent on guaranteeing. Beyond this, he may possibly be tempted by the wildly dangerous and largely pointless lure of geoengineering.

For many, the U.S. withdrawal signaled a new era in the global politics of climate change, with China, Europe, and non-State actors such as technology moguls or billionaire mayors poised to become the so-called champions. Following the announcement, Michael Bloomberg stepped in with a $15 million offer to fill the gap left by the U.S. for funding UN climate change meetings and several states launched a “climate alliance” with Hawaii becoming the first to pass a bill requiring emissions reductions supposedly in line with the temperature target of the Paris Agreement.

While such moves are welcome in principle, framing the likes of Bloomberg and Elon Musk as heroes is misleading and insulting. Bloomberg’s $15 million is no replacement for the $3 billion pledged by the U.S., nor for the hundreds of billions they should be contributing under any measure of fairness. Notably, his donation went to the UN secretariat as opposed to community-based adaptation projects in poor countries, which would not secure him any political leverage. Similarly, while Elon Musk did resign in protest at the decision, he had no qualms working with Trump’s administration even as they enacted the Muslim ban and repealed healthcare for millions of people.

Macron tried to out-troll the Troll-in-Chief

Following the announcement, France’s new President Emmanuel Macron began trolling Trump with this invite to climate scientists to relocate to Paris. He went on to somewhat undermine himself by inviting Trump himself to Paris for Bastille day, proving that liberals and neoliberals are unable or unwilling to directly confront fascism or its handmaidens, who have not finished with their pursuit of ecosystem collapse.

Meanwhile, the British government, humiliated by the results of an ego-driven snap general election, cut a deal with the extremely reactionary DUP of Northern Ireland, whose regressive beliefs include climate change denial and a near fanatical lust for fracking. Elsewhere in Europe, the Polish government’s appetite for destroying the UNESCO heritage Białowieża Forest continues unabated as part of their larger plan to log the entire country.

The Polish government is arguing that to save the forest it must destroy the forest. Poland will host critical UN Climate Change negotiations in 2018. Photo: Kacper Pempel/Reuters

Not to be outdone by the bad governments of America and Europe, the Australian Government has approved a huge gas pipeline in the Northern territory (paving the way for a fracking assault of aboriginal lands) and followed up by passing a bill to “fix” current title laws to make it easier for mining companies to reach agreements with first nations Traditional Owners groups. The bill has been nicknamed the “Adani Bill” after the Adani Carmichael mega coal mine which is being fought tooth and nail by many in Australia.

They have also taken a note from Trump’s playbook by sending the Environment Minister out to press to make the ridiculous justification for the Adani mine that Australian coal being exported to India is “better for the Great Barrier Reef” than leaving it in the ground while other countries sell coal to India.

The Adani mine is fiercely opposed by Australian civil society. Photo: John Englart