US Cities, States Step up for Climate Change

11 June, 2017

Many American states, cities and businesses say they will work to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement. This comes after President Donald Trump announced he was pulling the U.S. out of the international agreement.

More than a dozen governors have signed new climate change pledges since Trump made the announcement. Their states represent nearly 40 percent of the U.S. economy. Democrats govern most of those states. Trump is a Republican.

Kate Brown is the democratic governor of Oregon. She said Tuesday, "Our coalition wants to let the world know that absent leadership from our federal government,'' the country will keep cutting fossil fuel emissions.

Mayors' actions

So far, over 270 mayors have agreed to "adopt, honor and uphold the commitments to the goals" of the Paris agreement. This includes cutting greenhouse gas emissions and increasing investments in renewable energies.

Leaders of large businesses such as Amazon, Apple and Target have also signed pledges to continue to reduce their fossil-fuel emissions.

Experts say it is unclear whether such efforts from states and individuals can fill in the hole left by Trump's decision to leave the agreement.

Stephen Benjamin, mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, told VOA that they will try.

"If the president follows through on his commitment to withdraw from the Paris agreement, mayors will stand in the gap."

Benjamin is vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He hopes the group will pass a resolution urging city governments to get all of their energy from renewable sources by 2035.

States' actions

The state of Hawaii passed a law last week to document sea-level rise, and to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Governor David Ige said it is the first state to pass a law carrying out parts of the Paris climate agreement. He signed another bill to reduce carbon emissions in agriculture.

Last Tuesday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed an agreement with China to work together on reducing emissions. They will work on so-called green technologies. The deals call for investments in low-carbon energy sources, cooperation on climate research and commercialization of cleaner technologies.

California Gov. Jerry Brown attends the Clean Energy Ministerial International Forum on Electric Vehicle Pilot Cities and Industrial Development, at a hotel in Beijing, June 6, 2017.
California Gov. Jerry Brown attends the Clean Energy Ministerial International Forum on Electric Vehicle Pilot Cities and Industrial Development, at a hotel in Beijing, June 6, 2017.

Brown warned that "disaster still looms" without urgent action.

He was attending an international clean energy conference in Beijing. Brown also met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The governors' office said the two pledged to expand trade between California and China, two of the world's largest economies.

Brown spoke with the Reuters news agency:

"It's highly significant that the governor of California can meet with the president of China, talk about very specific issues, on the foremost challenge of our time, namely climate change, and commit to taking the kind of steps that are needed to further this process of energy transformation."

Bloomberg and America's Pledge

European leaders have also been meeting with local American leaders. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently met with French leaders in Paris.

Bloomberg is the United Nations Secretary General's special envoy for cities and climate change. He said he was not there to criticize Trump's action. But he said the U.S. "will meet our Paris commitment," even without federal support.

"Over the past decade, the United States has led the world on emission reductions – and our federal government has had very little to do with it. It happened because of leadership from cities, public opposition to coal plants and market forces that have made cleaner sources of energy – including solar and wind – cheaper than coal."

While in Paris, Bloomberg announced a new group called America's Pledge. It will give the U.N. a plan for how the U.S. will meet its Paris commitment even without the federal government.

So far, three states, 30 cities and 300 companies have signed on to the group, said Carl Pope, an adviser to Bloomberg.

Trump administration response

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said states and local governments should feel free to follow their own plans.

"We believe in states' rights," Spicer said. "If a locality, municipality or state wants to enact a policy that their voters or their citizens believe in, then that's what they should do."

The Trump administration, however, also wants to cut energy programs at the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt called the president's decision to withdraw from the agreement courageous. He urged Americans not to apologize for the decision. He said the president heard "many voices" about climate change, and was "thoughtful" about making his decision. Like Trump, Pruitt said the agreement put the U.S. "at an economic disadvantage."

As a presidential candidate, Trump called climate change "a hoax," or not true. However, Pruitt would not say whether Trump has changed his position on global warming.

Most scientists agree that climate change, and the warming of the planet, is caused by human activity.

Pruitt said the president will continue to study the issue. He said Trump will either "re-enter" the Paris agreement, or "engage in a discussion around a new deal" that would put America first.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

And I'm Anne Ball.

Steve Baragona wrote this story for VOANews. Anne Ball adapted his report for Learning English with additional material from Reuters and the Associated Press. Ashley Thompson was the editor. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section and visit us on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

pledge – v. to formally promise to give or do (something)

absent – adj. not present at a usual or expected place

greenhouse gas – n. carbon dioxide and other gases that scientists have linked to rising temperatures in Earth's atmosphere

renewable energies – n. any naturally occurring source of energy like solar, wind, biomass, tidal and hydroelectric power that is not taken from nuclear or fossil fuel.

emission – n. the act of producing or sending out something (such as energy or gas) from a source

stand in the gap expression to take the place of a person who has fallen (sometimes a religious expression)

commercialization – n. to make something available to customers

looms – v. hangs over

enact – v. to make (a bill or other legislation) officially become part of the law

courageous – adj. very brave : having or showing courage