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20 Jun 2017

Was Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement a blessing in disguise?

Role of cities in addressing climate change

Trump's recent withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has been met with a loud clamour on how it ends all hopes for fighting climate change.

However, Trump's withdrawal seems to have come as a blessing in disguise, mobilizing states and major cities across the world to re-affirm their commitments to the agreement.

What role could cities play, where nation-states have failed to deliver?

In context

Role of cities in addressing climate change


States and climate change

Although the Kyoto Protocol (1997) obligated countries to mitigate global emissions, fundamental differences between the developed and developing world on who should bear the cost of climate change had rendered it stagnant.

Consensus was finally achieved with the Paris Agreement (2015), whereby countries agreed to take measures to keep global temperatures under 2 degree Celsius, albeit with no mechanisms to make countries comply.


Climate change: US has always been reluctant to sign up!

Although President Bill Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol, the Senate refused ratification stating it put the US economy at a disadvantageous position. President Bush in 2002 withdrew from the Agreement, echoing the same reasons, causing it to fall apart.

While President Obama promised to cut down 26-28% % emissions from 2005 levels by 2025, Trump pulled out of the Agreement in early June.

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Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement

Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement on 2 June, 2017 stating, "I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris. I promised I would exit or re-negotiate any deal which fails to serve America's interests."


Reacting to Trump, Mayors re-affirm commitments to Paris Agreement

Reacting to Trump's withdrawal, Mayors of 175 cities including Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto re-affirmed their cities' commitment to the Agreement. While Hawaii enacted a legislation backing Paris commitments, states including California are already pioneering climate action in the US.

Former New York Mayor and C40 Chairman, Michael Bloomberg promised that US will still meet its commitments through a network of states, cities and businesses.


What can cities do?

Cities have tremendous economic and political clout. They further consume two-thirds of the world's energy and 70% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Moreover, impacts of climate change including rising sea-levels directly impact cities in coastal areas.

International collectives such as the Cities Climate Leadership (C40) also allow them the flexibility to try out innovative frameworks for effective transfer of technology and finances.

How Indian Mayors are pitching in to fight climate change?

Indian cities

How Indian Mayors are pitching in to fight climate change?

Indian Mayors have started taking into account the financial risks of climate change, driving city-level climate action across India.

For instance, Surat, a victim of repeated floods and a plague outbreak in 1994 has put in excellent resilient systems including early warning systems and ground water management.

Post the devastating 2015 floods, Chennai is reported to be looking into similar strategies.

The cost of climate change

Climate change induced disasters have globally cost $ 2.5 trillion since 2000. The 2015 Chennai floods further cost a whopping $ 3 billion loss to the Indian economy.


Trump's withdrawal: Not all hopes are lost?

Cities have strong incentives to address climate change from environmental as well as economic benefits that they would derive. Further, climate change can only be effectively tackled through co-operation between cities and private entities, along with states.

Trump's withdrawal if anything is a blessing in disguise, for having mobilized the entire international community into action, possibly even exceeding expectations under the Paris Agreement.

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