Despite Donald Trump’s announcement to exit the Paris Agreement, the world seems determined to make a change. At the first meeting of the “global covenant of mayors”, the mayors of 7,453 cities, representing 680,448,966 people worldwide have confirmed their commitments to the climate goals set before Trump’s election into office.
Immediately after Trump pledged to withdraw from the global Paris Agreement, over 250 mayors representing 59 million Americans vowed to follow the Paris Agreement, bypassing the White House. This quick reaction proved to be a sign of things to come, as more and more mayors worldwide express ambitions beyond their own nation’s contribution. Many big cities want to set a standard for reducing emissions and implement smart technologies not just because it protects the planet, but because it makes economic sense. It’s also much easier to implement such strategies and technologies at a local rather than a national level — and this is where the Covenant of Mayors seems to shine most, with things moving “incredibly fast” according to participants.
Take Atlanta, for instance, a city where Mayor Kassim Reed has vowed to go fully renewable by 2035, in a measure unanimously passed by the city council. He emphasized that 75% of the US population lives in urban areas which could implement similar solutions to Atlanta. An engaged collaboration, facilitated by an exchange of ideas and transfer of technology could enable many cities to achieve their ambitious sustainability targets.
“Right now you have a level of collaboration and focus and sharing of best practices that I haven’t seen. I came from Brussels from a meeting of the US conference of mayors … and more than 300 mayors signed a letter reflecting our will to deliver the Paris accord commitments,” he said, adding that things are moving fast despite resistance from the White House. “My firm belief is that President Trump’s disappointing decision to withdraw from the agreement will actually have the opposite effect in terms of execution.”
“We have the ability to still achieve between 35% and 45% CO2 emission reductions without the involvement of the national government and it is why I chose to be here at this time to send a signal to 7,400 cities around the world that now should be a time of optimism, passion and action,” he concluded.
Reed isn’t an isolated optimist. The mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson, said mayors needed to be proactive and take initiative. He echoed the same Trump-Against-The-World feeling that’s been prevalent since the US President expressed his disdain of the Paris Agreement. A change is coming, whether or not the administration wants it.
“The Trump administration better watch out for US cities,” he said. “They are on the rise, and I think will prevail in the end, turning the tide, and making sure the US is a climate leader rather than what is happening currently.”
The European Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič, who co-chairs the board, said that the EU has no interest to re-negotiate the pact — we’ve already wasted too much time as it is. The time for talking has passed, now is the time for implementation.
“I have to say that now we have to be very pragmatic,” he said. “We work very closely with the states like California, like Washington, like New York and many others, and have a strong alliance … We are not going to renegotiate the Paris agreement. Now is not the time to negotiate, it is time to implement.”
While this is encouraging news which will undoubtedly propel the world closer to reducing its emissions, there is still one area in which the White House has the final say: and that’s the Green Climate Fund. It’s fine and dandy that mayors in developed countries are paying their due share, but without enabling the developing world (which is projected to cause a massive increase in emissions), that can only get us so far. The fund is expected to raise $100 billion a year by 2020, with the EU providing $4.6 bn, compared to the $3 bn agreed by the US. The fund was already falling well short of ambitions, and it’s unclear what will happen to it under these conditions. The financing of renewable projects in the developed world remains one of the big questions that require a quick answer.