The impending exit of the United States from the Paris Agreement marks one of the darkest moments in the history of climate governance and could help deflate any momentum coming out of this year’s climate conference (COP25) in Madrid. But the presence of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other U.S. Democratic lawmakers at the outset of the conference shows the U.S. is not of one mind.
The U.S. already has begun the process of withdrawal, but it cannot formally exit the agreement until November 4 of next year, one day after the U.S. Presidential elections and four days before COP26 begins.
A small U.S. delegation is present at COP25
While Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other high-ranking Trump Administration officials decided not to attend this year’s two-week climate conference, which began on December 2, a small delegation of State Department officials remain as key decisions surrounding loss and damage and global carbon market systems are expected later this week.
Trump’s delegation has maintained an obstructionist stance on certain issues at COP25, which are consistent with Trump’s previous positions.
“The U.S. delegation is being helpful on some issues like transparency and robust rules for Article 6 transactions,” said Alden Meyer, Director of Strategy and Policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “On other issues, such as loss and damage, finance, and raising ambition, they’re not helpful. They can’t be, given the President and the administration’s position, so that’s not going to change until after COP26.”
In this year’s negotiations, the U.S. has been very outspoken against financing loss and damage.
“The U.S. says it is going to have a pretty minimal presence here and they are going to have a delegation focused on technical issues,” said Collin Rees, Campaigner at Oil Change International. “And then you see them here doing things like wrecking this incredibly important piece of the loss and damage negotiations.”
Democratic delegation arrives in first days of COP25
Pelosi and her delegation made a brief appearance at the conference to show their support for the Paris Agreement. The delegation included four chairs of some of the most relevant committees in the House on climate policy.
Back in the U.S., Pelosi and her delegation held a press conference about COP25. “Our message to that group there that even though the President has withdrawn from the Paris Accord, we’re still in,” said Pelosi. “We’re still in to protect our environment for our children and their future.”
But Pelosi and Democrats who have been skeptical of the Green New Deal and other proposals are being pushed to go further:
“This is not the same international climate space as it was when Obama was not doing nearly enough, and I think there is a desire among establishment Democrats to get back to that. But I think this was a very helpful wakeup call for them and for U.S. politicians that things are not the same and they are not going to get away with the same stuff,” said Rees. “I think it has a pretty big impact on their thinking about climate, which will pay dividends along the line.”
A Democratic win would change U.S. Climate Diplomacy
Much of the future of U.S. climate diplomacy hinges on the U.S. Presidential election next November. A victory by the Democratic candidate could mean that the U.S. could be back in as early as February 21, 2021, 30 days after the next president’s inauguration. A Trump victory would mean that the U.S. would likely be out of Paris for at least another four years and could further undermine the integrity of the Agreement.
“It will matter a great deal who wins the Presidential election the week before,” said Meyer. “If Trump is re-elected, the world will be coming to grips with that and try to figure out what it means for Paris. Would that give impetus for other countries to consider joining the U.S. in leaving Paris? Would the Jair Bolsonaro’s and Scott Morrison’s of the world leave or would it not have an impact?”
Regardless of the winner of next year’s election, the U.S. delegation will have to answer to an increasingly mobilized public that is demanding climate action from its government.
“The fact of the matter is that we are seeing a growing movement in the streets that is demanding climate action, that is holding governments accountable when they don’t deliver on this and when they side more with the corporations in their country then with the people who are directly impacted by the climate crisis,” said Sriram Madhusoodanan, Deputy Campaigns Director at Corporate Accountability. “We are seeing a ton of momentum already in terms of cities and states in the U.S. advancing litigation against the industry that has known about and fueled this crisis for so long.”