Over the past several days, many of the world’s leaders and policy makers have gathered in Bonn, Germany for the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). COP24 is set to conclude on Friday, and some feel that despite hard work from the administration, progress to combat climate change appears bleak.
The United States failed to sign the agreement it helped author over the past two decades, and President Trump is unafraid to “tweak” parts of the agreement. But this weekend should not overshadow the significant accomplishments made over the past 17 years, a fact President Trump should be aware of. Many countries increased their pledges to combat climate change. Even China raised its 2020 goal, which is a significant accomplishment in the difficult negotiations during the conference. Of the 153 parties participating in the conference, 194 are committed to reducing their respective greenhouse gas emissions and binding them to that goal through 2020.
Even before the conference commenced, US environmentalists would not allow the failure of the Trump administration to sign the Paris agreement to mar the talk of it being a success. In a statement issued by the Center for American Progress (CAP), many of the environmental activists declared that COP24 would be the “best time to write the law that will guarantee America leaves climate and energy legislation to the next president.” CAP maintains that significant progress has been made under President Trump, and even though the US did not sign the Paris Agreement, it is “proud to leave the Paris Accord in a good place for the next administration.”
Gloria Steinem, author of “A Woman’s Place is in the Wilderness” is not so certain, arguing that the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany have shown “there is an evil climate conspiracy that includes elected officials who care more about the financial benefits they get than the dangers we face.”
The assumption that some parties, led by the US, could single-handedly stop climate change by doing so has been shattered by the experience of past COPs. Despite some extreme views, the United States was one of the strongest backers of the Paris accord. Few could deny that it was a common position of many other nations to keep US environmental policies as close to what was in the agreement as possible. If climate policy was not the one unified world-wide policy question, it would have been incorporated into the conference’s governing documents by now.
But other countries—not least China—now also face powerful forces aligned with the United States that pose a threat to their goals to reduce carbon emissions. Already, these powerful forces in China are producing a massive carbon dioxide emission shift to coal to stay up with demand and to garner clean energy investment that can help develop new sources of energy. This shift from coal to renewable energy is taking place while the world’s most powerful economy, the United States, has withdrawn from the Paris accord. If China’s strategy works well, the impending elimination of American federal carbon dioxide emissions should leave the world’s most populous nation with an economic boost and a sustainable future.
As we enter the final days of COP24, it is clear that the climate gods are unhappy about the watered down commitments made at the conference. The burden of ensuring continued climate protection falls squarely on all nations, and even wealthy nations like the United States.
The mission of COP24 is not easy, as it stretches across many issues and that it only consists of a quarter of the signatories needed to ratify the Paris accord. But the fourteenth-century English philosopher John Locke summed it up quite well: “Most of the efforts are limited to the express limitations on each party’s Government. The highest purpose of the General Purposes must be to secure through the General War a simple form of independence for each country from excessive and undue suppression of Nature.”
Oren Cass is Director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Manhattan Institute. See also: The Death of a Broken Market: The Intellectual Framing of Transnational Environmentalism by Michael Crichton.