Trump Abandons Leadership on Climate: It's Up to the States Now | Conservation Law Foundation

Trump Abandons Leadership on Climate: It’s Up to the States Now

After reckless federal backsliding, local leaders have taken up the mantle of climate action

Greg Cunningham | @GregCLF

I’ve spent the past three years waiting for this shoe to drop – for President Trump to officially renege on our country’s climate pledge and pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement. While it’s a day I hoped would never come, it doesn’t change what we need to do – what we have already been doing – here in New England.

We’ve known about the Trump administration’s reckless plan to withdraw from the international climate agreement for years. When he made this outrageous announcement in 2017, local and state leaders across the country took up the cause of climate action, kicking off the “we are still in” movement. Here in New England, we’ve pushed state leaders to live up to those promises. We’ve driven them to turn their paper pledges into binding law and enact meaningful action.

President Trump may have abandoned us to climate catastrophe, but we can still create a thriving future. New federal leadership could rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and take broad action to meet our international goals. But even if that happens (and that’s still a big “if” today), it doesn’t change what we can and should do in New England. With swift, ambitious action to lower emissions and by building more resilient communities here at home, we can avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis – and create models for the rest of the nation to follow.

New England Is Leading the Way on Climate Action

Long before the Paris Agreement was struck, CLF was working to craft ambitious state laws to slash climate-damaging emissions in New England. In 2008, we helped create one of the country’s first climate laws – the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act. This set the stage for lowering pollution in the Commonwealth, and for other states to follow suit.

And follow they have. Over the past few years, we’ve come together with environmental groups, public health leaders, youth activists, and the business community to pass even stronger climate laws in Vermont and my home state of Maine. Now, stakeholders in both states are working towards clear roadmaps to cut emissions and ensure our communities are ready for the climate impacts we can’t avoid.

Over the last 10 years, we also helped to bring coal power to its knees in New England. In 2018, Brayton Point, the region’s largest coal plant, was razed to the ground after years of polluting nearby neighborhoods. And we supported a Rhode Island community in blocking a new fossil fuel power plant. Now residents can rest easy, knowing a fracked gas giant won’t be spewing pollution into their backyards.

But it’s not just about ditching fossil fuels: New Englanders are pushing to replace this power with clean energy. Solar and offshore wind will bring good jobs to the region while lowering pollution. And robust energy efficiency measures will allow families to stay warm in their homes on even the coldest winter days – without their having to spend precious dollars on dirty energy.

The Future of Global Climate Action Without the U.S.

Just because the Trump administration wants us all to look the other way on climate doesn’t mean other nations are following suit. I was encouraged when Japan recently committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. And multiple European countries have laid out plans to ban the sale of gas-powered cars. This shows that, around the world, countries are laying plans to lower their emissions and build a better future for their people.  

And here in the U.S., local leaders keep stepping up. From strong state climate laws intended to ratchet down emissions to building out local energy projects, work at the state and city level is set to bring sweeping change that will free us of dirty fuels.

None of this comes a moment too soon. This year, I have been horrified by the raging wildfires, a record-breaking hurricane season, and the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth in Death Valley. (Europe has also battled record-breaking heat waves, while parts of Asia flooded due to an unprecedentedly severe monsoon season.) Around the world, communities are feeling the effects of climate change – and no one is truly prepared.

Updating Our Climate Goals

Nothing the Trump administration does to undermine our climate or the environment surprises me these days. But while the U.S. dropping out of the agreement has major implications – we are the second-largest emitter of climate-damaging emissions – the rest of the world is clearly committed. So are we here in New England.

In fact, we’re committed to even stronger goals than what the Paris Agreement called for in 2016. Based on the most recent science, it’s clear we need to slash emissions sooner than we thought. It is now well understood that the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement are not ambitious enough. The world pledged to meet them, because it’s what we had to work with at the time. But four years later, it’s no longer enough to slowly lower our emissions – we need to cut them at a rapid pace and on a large scale. The impacts of the climate crisis are reaching our communities years before scientists predicted and will only get worse if we don’t push for bold change now.

But through local action, we can commit to making climate our top priority and building a healthy, resilient New England. 

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