“WE’RE still in,” was the message of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, after the President, Donald Trump, announced the country’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The President’s announcement, which fulfills a campaign pledge, drew condemnation from charities, business leaders, and politicians. The Paris Agreement, signed in 2015 by 196 nations (News, 11 December 2015), includes a commitment to decreasing carbon emissions, and limiting global warming to 2°, and to providing $100 billion in aid to developing countries to cope with climate impact.
Faith bodies were heavily involved in campaigning for the deal. Christian Aid described President Trump’s decision as “grossly irresponsible”, and an act that could “mark the end of American supremacy”. Tearfund accused him of showing “complete disregard for the millions of people who are suffering at the hand of climate change”. He was guilty of an “abject failure of leadership”, the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, said.
Rudelmar Bueno De Faria, general secretary of the ACT Alliance, a coalition of 144 churches and faith-based organisations, said that the exit “flies in the face of ethics and Christian values”.
But Bishop Curry sounded a more hopeful note. “The United States has been a global leader in caring for God’s creation through efforts over the years on climate change,” he said on Thursday of last week. “President Trump’s announcement changes the US’s leadership role in the international sphere. Despite this announcement, many US businesses, states, cities, regions, non-governmental organisations, and faith bodies, like the Episcopal Church, can continue to take bold action to address the climate crisis.”
The phrase ‘We’re still in’ became a statement of commitment for many of us who, regardless of this decision by our President, are still committed to the principles of the Paris Agreement.”
In his address at the White House on Thursday of last week, President Trump argued that the Agreement would “undermine our economy, hamstring our workers, weaken our sovereignty, impose unacceptable legal risk, and put us at a permanent disadvantage to the other countries of the world”.
The US would immediately cease all implementation, he said, and the “draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country”. But it would also begin negotiations to “re-enter either the Paris Accord or an entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers”. The US would continue to be “the cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on earth”.
The leaders of France, Germany, and Italy rejected his claim that re-entry was on the cards. A statement issued by Downing Street said that the Prime Minister had expressed her “disappointment” to President Trump. Mrs May confirmed that Britain remained committed to the agreement.
“The 20th century was powered by fossil fuels, and America dominated the world,” Christian Aid’s lead international climate spokesman, Mohamed Adow, said. “The 21st century will be powered by clean energy, and Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement could mark the end of American supremacy.
“Thankfully, this will not stop the worldwide transition to a low carbon economy. . . The rest of the world recognise that it’s in their interests to decarbonise their economies and slow the heating of the planet. They will not let one man destroy our common home.”
The head of advocacy at Tearfund, Paul Cook, said that the President had “missed a key opportunity to boost economic growth through innovative clean-energy solutions.
Growing economies, such as China and India, are discovering how renewable energy can be a catalyst for a booming economy, creating green jobs and flourishing businesses, while reducing carbon emissions.”
A study conducted by Yale University, in December, found that 69 per cent of voters were in favour of US participation in the Paris deal.
Bishop Holtam said that the US emitted nearly one fifth of global carbon-dioxide emissions, and that China, the other “mega-emitter”, had committed itself to “deep and sustained cuts”.
“How can President Trump look in the eye the people most affected, including the world’s poorest in the places most affected by climate change now, and those affected by increasingly frequent extreme weather in parts of the USA?” he asked.
“What will our children and grandchildren say to us about the way we respond to this extreme carelessness?”
Faith groups could make a difference, the Bishop advised. This week, shareholders in ExxonMobil defied the corporation’s board by voting in favour of a motion, tabled by the Church Commissioners and others, requiring the company to report on how its business model would be affected by global efforts to limit the average rise in temperatures.
Christian climate groups continue to agitate for the Commissioners to disinvest in fossil fuels altogether.
Last week, a coalition of groups held a vigil outside Salisbury Cathedral and delivered a letter to Bishop Holtam, calling on the Church to sell its shares in ExxonMobil.
“When the Church should be showing moral leadership to protect the millions of lives devastated every year by climate change, they’re being taken for a ride by the very company causing the problem,” a member of Christian Climate Action, Ruth Jarman, said.
“Our active engagement and voting record provide greater leverage and influence than we could ever hope by simply selling our holdings,” Bishop Holtam said, in response.
“Fossil fuels will continue to be part of the world’s energy mix for several more decades. The key is that they will be a declining component. We intend to play our part in ensuring companies manage that transition.”