Even as international climate negotiators in Katowice, Poland, laughed at the U.S. administration’s promotion of fossil fuels, more than 1,000 activists rallied for what they call a Green New Deal in the U.S. Congress. And these young activists from the Sunrise Movement appear to be gaining traction with political leaders beyond what the alarming reports from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. National Climate Assessment could accomplish on their own.
These activists want support for a resolution drafted by Representative-Elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, which would establish a select House committee with a mandate to draft aggressive legislation for climate action that would be embedded in a broader U.S. agenda of economic reform, public investment, job creation and social justice — a Green New Deal that would tackle climate change as the 1930s New Deal tackled the Great Depression. While not a brand new concept, the idea of a Green New Deal has gained considerable attention recently. At a time of widening income inequality, this approach is intended to ensure that the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people are better off as a result of the economic transformation. Their goal is to work out the details over the next two years.
The push for a Green New Deal increases focus on the scale and urgency of transforming the United States (and the world) to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy in an equitable manner. The Yellow Vests movement in France serves as a cautionary tale about what can happen when political leaders fail to connect these dots.
Of course, the Green New Deal isn’t the only set of climate proposals being explored. There are important debates to be had about how broad the agenda should be and how to accomplish it, but both the risks of inaction and the opportunities of action are tremendous. The high-level Commission on a New Climate Economy called for growth that is “strong, sustainable, balanced, and inclusive” in their recent report, which found a $26 trillion economic opportunity in climate action through 2030.
The Trump administration clearly hasn’t gotten the message. It sponsored an event at the international climate talks in Katowice to “showcase ways to use fossil fuels as cleanly and efficiently as possible,” while in Washington, the U.S. EPA is working to dismantle environmental standards that were designed to do just that.
Trump Is Out of Step with Americans on Climate Change
Fortunately, it is increasingly clear that the Trump administration is not speaking for the American people when it comes to climate change. President Donald Trump’s announcement that he intends to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement has been met by a chorus of over 3,600 cities, states, universities, investors, and business who declared We Are Still In to affirm their commitment to the Paris Agreement. These actions can add up: Fulfilling America’s Pledge shows that deeper and broader action at the subnational level could cut U.S. emissions to 21-24 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, which is within striking distance of the U.S. climate commitment made at Paris. And deeper and broader action is coming to many states as a result of the midterm elections, which will not only bring new climate leaders to Washington but will also significantly expand the coalition of governors implementing concrete policies; something more than two-thirds of voters support.
WRI looks forward to working with all members of Congress to discuss how best to construct effective and strong climate legislation. The Sunrise Movement, the recent introduction of bipartisan legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent and the recent call for climate-smart infrastructure legislation all give new hope that climate will be a top agenda item during the next Congress. While the president and the Senate majority may be able to block sweeping new climate legislation for now, there will be opportunities for more targeted progress while climate leaders and activists use the next two years to work out policy details and build the coalitions needed to enact legislation after 2020.
The new wave of climate activism in evidence in Washington this week adds much needed youthful energy to the voices of scientists, governors, mayors, business leaders and governments around the world who are committed to the goals of the Paris Agreement. There is still lots of work to do, and no time to lose. Change happens slowly, then all at once.