Saturday, May 20, 2017

Reasons for Climate Optimism in 2017 Despite the Elephant in the Room

Contrary to expectations, events in 2017 give us reason to be optimistic. There has been so much good news over the last couple of years culminating in the Paris Climate Agreement. Both 2015 and 2016 were good years for climate action. However, this momentum was interrupted by the election of arguably the most ill-informed man ever to have control over the White House. 

This president in consort with the GOP passed a slew of destructive legislation. As revealed by his budget and his Executive Orders, Trump wants to kill climate action and scale back renewable energy. In short Trump's First 100 days have been a climate and environmental nightmare.

While we have reason to be discouraged we simply cannot afford to wallow. We cannot afford to give in to pessimism, particularly when there are so many good reasons to be optimistic. This point was made in a Mongabay interview with leading climate scientist and author Naomi Oreskes. "[A]t the end of the day, pessimism is not acceptable. It becomes an excuse for giving up. And I reject it." Oreskes said.

Here are some good news stories in 2017. The Senate recently voted to preserve an important Obama-era methane rule and the French electorate voted for global engagement and climate action. People turned out in record numbers to protest the current administration and the media are learning how to hold Trump accountable. Perhaps most promising, the system of checks and balances, including the courts give us hope for the future of the United States. At the very least the Trump administration's precarious political situation might force them to reconsider the Paris Agreement.

There are a number of reasons why we should be optimistic, here are four additional reasons to be hopeful about climate action.

1. Paris Climate Agreement

The COP21 deal was a momentous step forward and we continue to see momentum post Paris. Despite Trump and his highly dysfunctional administration, optimism pervaded the recent Bonn Climate Conference that took place at the beginning of this year. This event is a prelude to the next Conference of Parties to the climate framework (COP23), to be held this November in Bonn.

Although Trump has repeatedly promised to pull out of the Paris agreement, Europe and much of the rest of the world have made it emphatically clear that they consider the deal "irreversible". Regardless of what the current US administration decides to do, representatives at the Bonn conference moved forward creating a "rule book" for implementing the Paris Agreement. "It was a truly successful meeting," said United Nations climate secretary Patricia Espinosa.

2. Business leadership

The year started with climate optimism and a raft of sustainability initiative announced at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.  Many in the corporate world have embraced the Paris Agreement and corporate America is increasingly resisting Trump's climate policies and rejecting his climate ignorance.

There are many reasons propelling sustainability forward and forcing corporations to publicly disavow this administration, one of the most compelling is that the Trump represents an unacceptable level of risk.

3. Benefits of renewables

The ongoing growth of renewable energy is another bright spot. The delegates in Bonn expounded on the benefits of renewable energy pointing to clean air, jobs and the economy.

Buoyed by the rapidly declining price of renewables like solar, Nations including China and India have been increasing their already significant investments in renewable energy. A presentation by Climate Action Tracker at the WED suggests that this increased investment will offset increased emissions from current US policy.

4. Declining forests

"Optimism" was even included in the title of a recent report on global forest resources. According to data gathered by the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) we are losing forests at a much slower rate particularly when population growth is factored.

A total of 234 countries and territories covering 88 percent of the world’s forests were included in this report. The rate of annual net loss of forests slowed by more than 50 percent (0.18% in the 1990s to 0.08% over the last 5 years). In the US forest area has increased by 8 million ha between 1990 and 2010.

5. Trump administration hobbled

The Trump administration's anti-climate efforts are being stymied. The year that started with the election of Donald Trump is now headed towards criminal charges against members of his team or perhaps even impeachment of the president himself. At the very least this will slow his anti-climate policy agenda.

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