World Environment Day offers an opportunity to rejoice and reflect
Joy over international progress must be tempered with the realization more needs to be done in the U.S.
World Environment Day, which is observed today (June 5), gives us the chance to both look back on environmental accomplishments and focus on creating momentum for current initiatives that could help us avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Globally, the 2015 Paris Agreement is one of the most significant climate policy accords in recent history. With it, world leaders agreed on aggressively reducing carbon emissions in a colossal effort to limit global warming. While the agreement has encountered its fair share of stumbling blocks, it’s noteworthy that so many parties reached such an ambitious and near-unanimous consensus. As someone who lives with roommates, I know how hard it is to get two or three people to settle on dinner plans. To get the leaders of 174 nations to agree on a global policy direction should have been an impossible task.
But that feat, like most climate policy success stories, is bittersweet. It shows us that global warming poses enough of a threat to make world leaders put aside their differences and commit to aggressive and expensive carbon reductions. At the same time, it’s a reminder that countries on the front lines of climate change are desperate for leadership from the wealthiest and most developed nations.
It also highlights the fact that in order for the Paris Agreement to work, the United States’ domestic plans must match that level of seriousness. Sadly, the Trump Administration plans to remove the U.S. from the agreement in 2020, which is the next available opportunity to leave the accord.
That news was a devastating setback. But, thankfully, many aren’t giving up. For instance, congressional initiatives like the Climate Action Now Act (HR 9), which recently passed the U.S. House, and similar legislation that is expected to be introduced by in the Senate by New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, show that, despite Trump’s reversal, many in Congress are determined to follow through on America’s climate commitments.
The Climate Action Now bill would bar congressional funding from being used to assist America’s departure from the Paris Agreement. Meanwhile, Sen. Shaheen’s legislation would reaffirm America’s commitment to the Paris standards.
As someone living in North Carolina, I see this and cheer. I know my state has been devastated by extreme weather events and stands to lose valuable coastal lands to climate change-induced sea level rise. I also know that North Carolina boasts a renewable energy capacity greater than almost every other state. For these reasons, North Carolina’s U.S. senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr should be strongly supporting climate action in Congress, and bills like the Climate Action Now Act, which provides a commonsense pathway to meaningful climate action. But sadly, neither senator is currently playing a meaningful role in the climate change discussion.
North Carolina’s leaders need to embrace these types of climate solutions. Admittedly, this requires optimism about our ability to collectively overcome obstacles, but, if anything, the Paris Agreement shows that leaders from fundamentally different cultures and backgrounds can come together for the common good.
World Environment Day is a great opportunity to rejoice in how far we’ve come, but we must also recognize that we are nowhere near safe from climate chaos. Meaningful climate policy must be a priority if we want a shot at worldwide political and environmental stability. That starts right in our own backyards.