On 22 April, Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General is set to host a high-level signature ceremony in New York for the formal adoption of the Paris Agreement reached last December.
It will once again be marked down as an historic moment, a further step to drive momentum to modernise and decarbonise our economies.
A recent report though, assessing the political credibility of countries’ pledges in Paris by the Grantham Research Institute and the Centre for Climate Change Economics, paints a rather patchy picture of climate action even among the G20. A handful of countries including both China and India were assessed as having “scope to significantly increase their credibility,” in particular lacking the required decision-making processes, capacity and expertise to fulfil their ambition.
As the report notes, “credibility is vital for building trust among negotiating parties” to increase pledges over time and much of this may depend on the outcome of this year’s US presidential election.
Climate change has become a line in the sand issue for the Republican presidential candidates as they seek to contrast themselves from the Democratic candidates and President Obama.
While he has backtracked on a twitter post that climate change was created by, and for, the Chinese to seek a competitive advantage over the US in manufacturing, it’s safe to say Donald Trump is sceptical of the science. Late last year, he was quoted as saying “I think it’s very low on the list [of priorities]. So I am not a believer…unless somebody can prove something to me, I believe there’s weather”.
Texan Ted Cruz has labelled mainstream climate science a “partisan dogma and ideology”.
Senator Marco Rubio from Florida, a state more aware than most of the impacts of climate change has been accused by Republican opponents of once flirting with the idea of a cap and trade system whilst a state legislator. He has denied ever having such views though and has openly questioned the science.
All Republican candidates have also expressed a desire to override or undermine Obama’s Clean Power Plan which is central to the US reducing its emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025 as promised in Paris. The US Supreme Court has already halted the plan.
One could expect these views on climate change to be toned down after June when the Republican Presidential nominee has been chosen, to appeal to a wider cross section of the public. Political pragmatism would kick in, the benefits of a cleaner, greener economy talked up. However, if Cruz or even Trump wins that is far from guaranteed.
US global leadership on climate change and its ability to help turn the rhetoric of Paris into reality cannot be overstated. One only has to look at the US-China climate change agreement of 2014 to understand the reach of US climate diplomacy. Where America goes, many still follow.
If a Republican wins the White House in November, much political will and momentum, which the Paris Agreement is built on, could be lost. By the first half of 2017 you could even see the US activating Article 28 of the agreement – a letter to Ban Ki-moon withdrawing from it altogether.
This would have significant implications on the post-Paris climate consensus and how the rest of the world prepares to meet their 2030 climate change targets.