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COP23: Voices from America’s Pledge; in their own words

  • A U.S. non-federal delegation led by Gov. Jerry Brown of California and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and including 15 U.S. states, 455 cities, 1,747 businesses and 325 universities, represents nearly half the United States economy.
  • This U.S. subnational delegation is at COP23 in Bonn, Germany, to commit to keeping the U.S. Paris Agreement emissions reduction goal set by the Obama administration in Paris in 2015 – a commitment made in defiance of President Donald Trump.
  • On Saturday, a standing-room-only event was held at COP23 where Bloomberg, Brown, Gore, and others spoke rousingly of emission cut achievements so far, and to come. Their words and photos are presented here.
Entrance to the U.S. Climate Action Center at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. This is the first U.S. pavilion ever not paid for and run by the U.S. federal government. Photo by Justin Catanoso

BONN, Germany – At the United Nations 20th climate summit in Lima, Peru in 2014, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a dramatic appearance and stirring speech that in essense apologized to the global community for Congressional Republicans blocking climate-action legislation.

At the 23rd climate summit here in Bonn, a coalition of mayors, governors, U.S. senators and business leaders made an equally dramatic appearance to, in essence, apologize to the global community for sitting president Donald Trump, his threat to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and his administration’s clear siding with the fading but still influential fossil fuel industry.

This defiant U.S. subnational movement has arisen at a time of historically high global temperatures, rising sea levels, catastrophic storms, raging wildfires and relentless drought, all tied to more than a century of burning fossil fuels.

What follows are excerpts and photos from a surreal day where subnational actors proclaimed their commitment to the Paris Agreement on behalf of the American people while usurping the two-decades-old role of the U.S. government in these annual negotiations.

Photo credit: Bloomberg Philanthropies

Ed Markey, U.S. Democratic Senator from Massachusetts:

“President Trump has called global warming a hoax. He has assembled a cabinet of big oil all-stars. Fear is rampant across the federal government in terms of the scientists who work there every day. But on our side, we have a hundred years of scientific reality. We are going to defend our fuel economy standards; we are going to defend our appliance efficiency standards; our Congressional delegation is going to make sure that incentives for wind and solar investments stay on the books. Here’s why: in 2016, there were 50,000 coal miners in the United States. In 2016, 50,000 new people got hired in the solar industry alone. But by 2020, there are going to be 500,000 people working in the solar and wind industries in the United States.”

Photo by Justin Catanoso / Mongabay

Al Gore, former U.S. Vice President:

“Investors around the world see the opportunities in the switch from carbon-based to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. This is one of the most impressive and astounding technological revolutions in all of history. The evidence is pretty clear. The world is in the early stages of a sustainability revolution which has the breadth and magnitude of the industrial revolution but the speed of the digital revolution.”

Photo by Justin Catanoso / Mongabay

Bill Peduto, Pittsburgh Mayor:

“Time goes in only one direction. If we think we’re going to be able to stick our head in the sand and pull out of this [Paris] agreement and it’s going to give our [U.S.] companies a benefit, what we’re really saying is ‘We don’t want to compete on the global level; we only want to sell within our own country.’ And we’re going to be passed over by companies that want to do business in other countries.”

Laura Phillips, senior vice president of sustainability at Walmart:

“About 10 years ago, we set a goal to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy across all of our properties. It’s a long-term ambition and we’re committed to that. We’re about 26 percent powered by renewables today and we have a path to get to 50 percent by 2025. That is part of our science-based emissions project to reduce our own emissions. And we’re working with our suppliers and customers to take a gigaton of emissions out of our supply chain.”

Photo credit: Bloomberg Philanthropies

Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, America’s Pledge initiative leader:

“More than half of all U.S. coal plants are closed or being phased out. And that trend has only accelerated over the past year. Thanks to the falling prices of wind and solar, coal no longer makes any economic sense. Coal’s days are numbered. It’s not coming back. The false promise of jobs coming back in coal is a sad fraud for miners who need help transitioning to the new economy rather than being a pawn in a political reality show.”

Photo credit: Bloomberg Philanthropies

Jerry Brown, California Governor and America’s Pledge initiative leader, responded to home state protesters who shouted that he and his state weren’t providing enough climate action:

“There is truth to what we are hearing here [from protestors], because what we are doing [in California] is relatively limited to the existential threat that we face. So yes, we need to do more. Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic wand. I can’t say ‘Stop, no more oil or coal.’ You need a strategy. Otherwise, all you get is noise. But it doesn’t get the job done. We are the most aggressive state in terms of climate action in the country. Do we have too much pollution? Yes. Do we have 32 million cars driving 335 billion miles every year? Yes. Are we going to stop them today? No. Are we going to stop this in time? Yes – if America’s Pledge is picked up by the rest of the country. That’s why we’re here. We’re in and we’re not going away.”

Photo by Justin Catanoso / Mongabay

Frank Bainimarama, Fiji Prime Minister, president of COP23:

“We need to achieve a response to climate change that matches the scale of this crisis. For Fiji and other vulnerable island nations, it is obviously about our survival. But something wonderful is happening at COP23. The parties that are pressing for greater ambition have been joined by so many non-state actors with a power to make a difference. And America’s Pledge is the finest example of this new dynamic. As COP president, I see renewed optimism. To all those behind America’s Pledge, now more than ever, thank you very much.”

Justin Catanoso is a regular contributor to Mongabay and a professor of journalism at Wake Forest University. Follow him on twitter @jcatanoso

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Mike Bloomberg meets with the COP23 President and Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimara in Bonn, Germany, November 11, 2017. Photo credit: Bloomberg Philanthropies