December 12, 2015 has been described as historic — the day we turned the tide on climate change.
On that day, after two weeks of negotiations, 196 nations unanimously agreed to adopt an international climate pact, known as the Paris Agreement. I had the privilege and honor to be present at COP21 where the Agreement was finalized and signed, leading the Climate Generation national delegation of ten teachers. People talk about when they became “politicized,” and I credit those ten days in Paris as the time when I stepped into my role as a citizen and a person with a voice to influence, seeing firsthand the role of frontline communities in securing lower emissions targets. It was a hopeful time to be doing climate work and there was a feeling of global connection and momentum to take on climate change.
Fast forward to June 1, 2017, the day President Trump announced the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. It wasn’t unexpected, but deeply troubling and disappointing nonetheless, alongside the dismantling of many federal programs and protections against pollution impacts over the last four years. There have been glimmers of hope, however, as the federal commitment was lost as cities, states, businesses, and institutions, such as universities, picked up the momentum. Networks like We Are Still In and the United States Climate Alliance were also formed, to share and track progress and to still amplify United States leadership on greenhouse gas reduction. Together the commitments of these networks continue our nation’s path toward our global responsibility, despite desertion from federal leadership.
Today, we formally leave the Paris Agreement, regardless of the election outcome.
While we all know the targets of the Paris Agreement are still far less than we need, the United States’ participation is critical to move us all forward together. The U.S. is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world and a major influence of international leadership. Without our participation, substantial action remains beyond reach.
As we look ahead in the coming weeks, cities, states, businesses, and local institutions must continue to demonstrate a commitment to the international goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming and protect our global community.
All of our voices and individual-to-collective actions can change the systems that have harmed our communities for generations, and we will build solutions to sustain generations to come.
Let’s continue to fight for federal action and demand leadership that takes this crisis as seriously as the rest of the world. The existence of the Paris Agreement proves that change is possible, that people are more powerful than entrenched interests, and that we can continue to work together for bold commitments and global change.