OPINION: Unlike Trump, UN chief shows true leadership on Paris climate agreement
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With reports that President Trump will withdraw from the Paris climate deal, new United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opined for the first time this week and laid out a five-point plan to mobilize support for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.N. chief, with his global bully pulpit, detailed a plan to appeal to the coal, oil, and gas industries to speed up their transition to sustainable energy, which many are already doing around the world and in the United States.

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At the same time, U.S. corporations, as well as activists, are imploring Trump to keep the United States in the agreement, particularly since the targets imposed by the global agreement are voluntary and self-imposed and the U.S. is halfway to reaching its targets.

 

Guterres made the point that was blasted to Trump at the Group of 7 meeting in Sicily, saying, “Those who embrace green technologies will set the gold standard for economic leadership in the 21st century.”

But Wednesday morning, it appeared that Trump made his decision to leave the Paris climate agreement. 

The Secretary-General had sent a less than subtle warning to Trump, saying, “If one country decides to leave a void, I can guarantee someone else will occupy it.”

Guterres called for even more reduction of emissions to limit the global temperature rise to as close as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius and commit the U.N. to support for countries that cannot afford to meet those goals.

There is a compelling argument to be made for the U.S. to stay in the climate agreement: the Environmental Protection Agency says that U.S. gas emissions fell 11.5 percent between 2005 to 2015 and the U.S. is halfway toward meeting the voluntary target set in the accord.

Dozens of U.S. corporations with a combined market capitalization of over $3.2 trillion — employing American workers in the power, retail, healthcare, technology and manufacturing sectors — have appealed to Trump to keep the agreement, which entered into force in October of last year.

Why? Because the U.S. transition to clean energy is good business. It is not only activists anymore that want the United States to stay in the agreement — it is U.S. businesses.

Progress has already been made on the global agreement. At the NYU Stern School, theSecretary-Generall made his case, saying, “We are already seeing massive floods, more extreme tornadoes, failed monsoons and fiercer hurricanes and typhoons ... And slow-motion disasters are speeding up.” But there is an upside, Guterres said, noting “Green business is good business.”

Solar power in the U.S. and China grew by 50 percent and the cost of renewables is falling. And even Trump’s director of the White House National Economic Council Gary Cohn said, “Coal doesn't even make that much sense anymore as a feedstock.”

Guterres laid out a five-point plan to large applause. First, he called for intensified political engagement to raise the bar on efforts to limit temperature rise to well below 2 degrees and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees. Second, there should be stronger integrated support by the entire U.N. development system for governments as they strive to meet climate commitments and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Third, there should be engagement with governments and major actors, including the coal, oil, and gas industries, to accelerate the global transition to sustainable energy. Fourth, he called for heightened efforts to mobilize national and international resources for adaptation, resilience, and the implementation of national climate action plans. Fifth, there should be new and strengthened partnerships, including with the private sector and through North-South, South-South, and triangular cooperation.

Guterres may have a global audience but he also presented a simple truth when he said, “The sustainability train has left the station. Get on board or get left behind.”

Pamela Falk, former staff director of a House of Representatives Subcommittee, is CBS News TV & Radio Foreign Affairs Analyst and U.N. Resident Correspondent and holds a J.D. from Columbia School of Law. Follow her on Twitter at @PamelaFalk.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Editor's note: This column was updated at 8:10 a.m.