By Bruce Naegel, July 2017

Climate Change in the Trump Era was the kick-off presentation for Silicon Valley Energy Summit (SVES) 2017 (1)(2). Jonathan Pershing, program director—environment, Hewlett Foundation, presented the excellent talk. His experience includes being the former lead US negotiator to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

SVES is a yearly energy conference held at Stanford. It is put on by Stanford and SSV (Sustainable Silicon Valley).

The opening speech covered:

  • What is the current state for managing climate change?
  • What is in the Paris Accord? What kind of deal is it for the US?
  • Managing climate change without the US President and federal administration
Jim Sweeney at SVES



Jonathan Pershing -SVES
Jonathan Pershing at SVES


Attendance at the SVES conference

What is the current state of climate change management?

Some good news for managing climate change: we have decoupled energy use and economic output. In the chart below, the purple bars (GDP) continue to grow. The rest of the bars relate to energy consumption and they are all heading down as we move from 1960 to the present day.

Growth and GHGs
Data from Jim Sweeney showing economic growth vs. GHGs

However, we are still putting more GHGs into the atmosphere and heating the planet.

The IPCC 5th Assessment Report PM 2013 (3) shows what is happening in the oceans. Temperatures are rising. Summer ice is less extensive. Upper ocean water temperatures are rising and we see rising sea levels. Oceans are key because they are the main body absorbing GHGs.

IPCC Ocean Data
IPCC data on the oceans changing

Picture from Jonathan Pershing’s presentation at SVES. Data from the IPCC 5th Assessment Report PM 2013

UN involvement in climate change

What started the UN involvement in climate change? In 1990, the UN held the first meeting of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) (4) (5). We were stalled, leaving the meeting in Copenhagen in 2009. A breakthrough was needed.

Paris COP meeting

To make the Paris COP meeting more successful, governments came to the meeting with agreements. The first was a bilateral agreement between China and the US, signed in 2014 (6). It was criticized for giving too much to China. However, it did put US and China in the game. It also encouraged others, since the US and China are the two largest contributors to GHGs.

Another successful agreement is the Under2 MOU (Under Two Degrees Memo of Understanding)(7). The Under2 MOU signees pledge to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. This agreement brought together over 130 jurisdictions around the world.

Who signed the Paris Accord?

A total of 195 nations have signed the Paris Accord (8). Three countries that are missing are the US, Syria, and Nicaragua. Nicaragua did not sign because enforcement was voluntary, not mandatory (9). Syria is under travel sanctions and would not have been able to attend.

So, what is in the  Paris Accord?

The goals of the Paris Accord stated in Article 2 of the agreement (8) include:

(a) Hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels

(b) Increase the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production

(c) Make finance flows consistent with a pathway toward low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

Countries furthermore aim to reach “global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.” The agreement has been described as an incentive for and driver of fossil fuel divestment.[9][10]

The Paris deal is the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement.

Nationally determined contributions

GHG by Country
GHG contribution by country from SVES (Wikimedia Commons) 

See global carbon dioxide emissions by country as well.

The contributions that each individual country should make in order to achieve the worldwide goal are determined by all countries individually and called “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs).[5] Article 3 requires them to be “ambitious,” “represent a progression over time,” and set “with the view to achieving the purpose of this Agreement.” The contributions should be reported every five years and are to be registered by the UNFCCC Secretariat.[12] Each ambition should be more ambitious than the previous one, known as the “principle of progression.”[13] Countries can cooperate and pool their nationally determined contributions. The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions pledged during the 2015 Climate Change Conference serve—unless provided otherwise—as the initial nationally determined contribution.

The level of NDCs set by each country[7] will set that country’s targets. However, the “contributions” themselves are not binding as a matter of international law, as they lack the specificity, normative character, etc. (8)

Trump intends to withdraw

President Trump announced he felt the Paris Accord was a bad deal for the US. He announced the US would withdraw from the Paris Accord on May 31, 2017. He suggested we would renegotiate a better deal for the US. Note that while he can start the process of withdrawing, it will not be final until November 2020.

Is it really an “unfair deal” for the US?

As stated above, each country chooses the targets and reduction methods itself, not the committee. Nicaragua highlights the voluntary nature of the agreement. Nicaragua refused to sign the agreement because it was voluntary. The way the agreement would be unfair to a country is if that country chose to make it unfair. In light of this, how can this be an “unfair deal” for the US?

Reaction to the US withdrawal

The US withdrawal was widely condemned by the part of the world working to manage climate change (197 countries). Trump’s request to renegotiate the deal will not happen. The agreement has been approved by 197 countries.

Various countries, states, cities, and businesses all came out in protest. Several organizations were created to represent those sections of the US that will be addressing climate change on their own. These include We Are Still In, US Climate Alliance, Under2 MOU, We Mean Business, US Conference of Mayors, and others.

The six other members of the G-7 stated they are staying with the Paris Accord. On Friday, July 7, the G-20 conference made a statement on the results of their conference. They stated that they were still united behind the Paris Climate Accord. They recognized the US was not part of this agreement. The comment from Time magazine was that Trump’s refusal to be part of this is strengthening the Paris Accord.

The US contributions to the Paris Accord withdrawn

The US stated their contributions to the Paris Accord were the Clean Power Plan and the upgraded CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards. Both are executive actions. Trump is in the process of modifying them to reduce their impact. In addition, Trump proposed budget cuts to departments that manage this process (e.g., NOAA, EPA, DOE).

Managing climate change without the US president and federal government

Managing Climate Change now falls to the subnational government agencies and the business community. Several organizations are stepping forward to fulfill this role.

The Under2 MOU

The Under2 MOU precedes the Paris Accord and encouraged other organizations to mobilize in support of the Paris Agreement. This agreement has 176 jurisdictions, including cities, counties, states, and provinces. Some countries have signed on as well. This group has the goals of minimizing temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius and targeting a stretch goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

US Conference of Mayors

More than 250 mayors at the event signed nonbinding resolutions, including a cities-driven plan to slow climate change – though no emissions targets were set – and a target to power their communities with 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

The US Climate Alliance

The US Climate Alliance was announced the day after Trump announced the withdrawal from the Paris Accord. It has 12 states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington). The charter supports Paris Accord goals at the state level. Both Republican and Democrat governors are represented. There are also states that have expressed support for the Paris Accord without joining the Climate Alliance.

We Are Still In

We Are Still In is an organization stating their members are still part of the Paris Accord. The group includes 222 cities and counties, 9 states, 150 presidents of higher education, and 1,627 businesses and investors.

To quote New York City mayor Bill de Blasio on a trip to Germany: “The world should know that Americans don’t align with Trump.”

Next Steps

It is great that these government jurisdictions are working to use more renewable energy and to minimize or eliminate GHGs. The next step is to put measurements in place and review status over time. Government infrastructure is necessary.

California and New York are likely to lead the way with their programs. However, each jurisdiction can devise their own solution. What works in one state will likely need to be tweaked to work in another.

The good news is that there is a lot of enthusiasm to address climate change. Onward!


All photographs by the author, other charts as noted in caption.


(2) Click on Program and Agenda from the page above