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Trump isn’t reporting CO2 emissions, ending an era of global transparency


On New Year’s Day, the Trump administration missed an important deadline. It wasn’t related to the debt ceiling, DACA, or the Iran nuclear deal. Rather, the United States was due to present its biennial update the rest of the world on our progress in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. Instead, the sound of crickets.

Previous presidential administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have taken widely different approaches to climate change.

President George H.W. Bush supported and helped establish the underlying United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a treaty that was ratified overwhelmingly by the U.S. Senate in 1992. President George W. Bush pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol but emphasized technological cooperation for cleaner energy sources. 

{mosads}President Obama (in whose administration both authors served) advanced a broad program of domestic measures to spur clean energy and climate preparedness while leading the global community to a universal climate agreement in Paris.


But no matter their differences, previous administrations agreed on at least one thing: Countries must be transparent about their emissions, as well as their actions to address climate pollution, and should report on these issues regularly and comprehensively.

Such regular reporting is the bedrock for any successful strategy to address the climate challenge. Because global warming is a truly global phenomenon, no country wants to act on its own if it believes that others are shirking. To address this so-called “free rider” problem, the United States has been the most vociferous advocate for transparency throughout the history of global climate talks. 

Over three decades, we have worked to persuade and cajole other countries without a tradition of open government, including China, to monitor, verify and publicly account for their emissions and climate actions. This not only prevents cheating and ensures that each country is living up to its stated commitments, but also improves the chances that the world can successfully manage the necessary transition to a low-carbon future and prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. U.S. leadership has been successful: strong reporting and transparency provisions are now an essential feature of global climate agreements, with all countries required to report on progress every two years.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration has now failed to meet its legal obligation to deliver its biennial report on behalf of the United States on time. The Trump administration’s inaction — and failure to explain such inaction — undermines U.S. credibility and risks eroding the global consensus on transparency that previous presidents of both parties have long fought to establish and uphold.

Fortunately, other actors in the United States are helping to fill the gap. In recent years, many states and cities, as well as businesses, have been working to implement their own programs that address climate, whether through clean energy, improved transportation, smart growth, and resilience to climate shocks. 

Within months of President Trump’s announced intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, thousands of “non-federal actors,” — states, cities, and businesses — representing over half the U.S. economy rallied in support of the Paris Agreement and have doubled down on their commitment to climate action. These leaders from both parties at the state, local and corporate levels are standing up for what they know to be right: that prioritizing sustainability will strengthen the U.S. economy and improve the lives of generations of Americans to come. 

These actors have already made an impact under the America’s Pledge initiative, established by California Gov. Jerry Brown and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to give voice to this growing community. Through this, they are demonstrating the full force of U.S. climate action to the rest of the world despite the deafening silence coming from Washington D.C. This year, the non-federal leaders involved in America’s Pledge will continue to provide transparency to international audiences about the scope and impact of their actions.

What the world wants to know is whether they can continue to count on the United States in leading the charge to address climate change. By letting American companies, cities and states tell their story of our real climate progress, we can both provide confidence to the rest of the world and showcase the best of our vibrant economy and pluralistic democracy.

Nate Hultman is the director of the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland. Hultman previously served on the Obama administration’s climate and energy policy team from 2014 to 2016. 

Paul Bodnar is the managing director of the Rocky Mountain Institute. Bodnar previously served in the Obama administration as special assistant to the president and senior director for energy and climate change at the National Security Council.

Tags CO2 Donald Trump greenhouse gas emisisons Nate Hultman Paul Bodnar

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