I’m getting both excited and nervous about COP23 in Bonn. At COP21 in Paris in 2015, there was huge suspense over whether the world would finally come together and commit to global climate action. When the deal was reached in overtime, the attendees were elated. It was a thrill to be there; strangers were crying tears of joy and hugging each other the moment the agreement was announced. The 20,000 people in the world who cared the most about taking climate action had gathered in Paris to work toward this moment – 10,000 government officials, and 10,000 media, business, and non-governmental organization representatives were there. During the tense closing days, there were times we were literally holding our breath, especially as the negotiations went into overtime.
The U.S. exercised leadership in Paris, joining the “high ambition coalition” during the negotiations, working alongside small island nations who were fighting for their continued existence and challenging other global superpowers to step up and commit to high ambition as well.
Just one year later, in early November 2016, the world’s climate negotiators gathered again to begin to write the “rule book” to implement the Paris Agreement. Yet, if COP21 in Paris was the thrill of victory, COP22 in Marrakech was the agony of defeat. Early in the meeting, the world found itself reeling from the news that Donald Trump had been elected President of the United States. The attendees of COP22 were especially disheartened because they feared Trump would make good on his threat to have the U.S. withdraw from the Paris Agreement. I felt like I watched my home country shrink over the course of the next 14 days. By the end of the conference, delegates and observers were talking about the U.S. as “only” a part of the world’s greenhouse gas emitters, and “only” a part of the world economy. Other countries were talking about how to move forward without the U.S. – and not for the first time.
The U.S. never agreed to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, but a significant number of parties did and made huge progress combating climate change. The EU in particular moved the ball down the field, with Germany taking the most significant role in moving to a clean energy future.
There was a silver lining to the U.S. federal government’s notable failure to ratify Kyoto: city leaders across the U.S. stepped up and committed to taking action to meet the Kyoto standards. I’m headed to Bonn to make sure that this year, states step up. U.S. cities have accomplished huge reductions in climate pollution since 1997 and have built up effective networks with cities all over the world to share best practices. States have taken action since Kyoto as well, but we lag the cities in connecting with and helping each other to build on our successes.
I will be in Bonn to share Minnesota’s success stories, strengthen relationships within the U.S. Climate Alliance, and connect with other state-level leaders from around the world. The U.S. federal government’s failure to lead on climate creates a vacuum that the rest of us must fill.