President Donald Trump risked isolation after a "rebel" US delegation turned up at the Madrid climate talks ignoring his recent notice to withdraw from the UN-led process.
Riding on the “we are still in” catchphrase, a coalition of mayors, philanthropists, faith leaders, scholars and researchers pitched tent at Ifema - Feria de Madrid in Spain, the venue of this year’s talks, where they set up a pavilion, fielded questions from the press and made presentations.
The bullish group, which accuses Trump’s administration of mutilating pro-environment federal laws, told the global community that most American policy and business leaders still supported a coordinated global climate action plan under the UN.
It emerged that state attorney generals, including New Jersey’s Gurbir Grewal, were working round the clock to legally challenge Trump’s bid to withdraw the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement, which seeks to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.
Since he succeeded President Barack Obama in 2016, Trump has been on the record dismissing climate change as a hoax and an attempt by poor countries and middle-level economies to arm-twist the US into meeting “skewed” international obligations.
Ever since he signaled his desire to withdraw from the climate change talks, US subnational and non-state actors have stepped in, turning up at major international meetings in opposition to the White House and the federal government.
On November 4, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced they had formally begun the process of withdrawal, marking the beginning of a year-long countdown to pull out.
In Madrid on Wednesday, the coalition of US states, cities, and businesses representing more than 3,500 major actors, who together represent nearly two-thirds of the US population, said they would not ditch the Paris agreement, hence the “we are still in” slogan.
“It’s not a matter of debate. We will tag along with other concerned parties to push the climate agenda,” David Jones, a climate lobbyist, told The Standard.
At the busy US Climate Action Center at the COP25 venue, the coalition’s members shared their personal stories of climate impacts. Just a few metres away, the US government’s official delegation offices had less activity, with a pinned notice asking visitors to email their inquiries.
“At the end of the day, it’s not a choice between the environment and the economy. There needs to be a greater dialogue,” said Joshua Reives of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who spoke at the coalition’s pavilion, set up by support from the Bloomberg philanthropies.
A meeting featuring Bill Peduto, Mayor of Pittsburgh, discussed how US states were taking advantage of partnerships with the private sector and civil society to carry out climate-friendly initiatives.
“COP25 is a critical moment. While the US is the largest economy, and the second-largest emitter, no one country can solve the climate crisis. We must work together to uphold and strengthen the Paris Agreement,” the ‘rebel’ US team said in its delegation statement.
It added: “On behalf of millions of Americans, we support the Paris Agreement and are mobilising American climate leadership so that our future remains bright. We are still in.”
Last week, former Secretary of State John Kerry formed a coalition to fight climate change “like war.” Kerry, a Democrat and a critic of the Trump administration, insists “no country is getting the job done” and plans meetings targeting climate skeptics.
Trump faces an impeachment threat over alleged abuse of power and the climate spat only adds to his political woes.