The news that the U.S. withdraws from the Paris Accord on climate change was no surprise. But till the last moment we all had the hope that common sense and responsibility toward the planet and citizens of the world would prevail and that the president of the most influential nation in the world – and historically the most polluting- would take heed of the multitude of voices within the U.S. and without, that called for a change in his position and so honor the historic agreement adopted in France in December 2015.
por Susana Canogar
Friday, 9 de June de 2017
The Paris Accord is unprecedented. An agreement that already accommodated the needs of the U.S. government by making it a voluntary commitment before the international community, perhaps giving it a greater moral strength. 197 countries agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) to ensure that temperatures would not increase over a 2ºC threshold with respect to pre-industrial levels. Only Nicaragua and Siria declined to join the Accord at that time.
The year 2016 is already considered the hottest year in recorded history and it is estimated that we already have a 1.5º C increase, dangerously close to the 2º C threshold established in the Accord. Climate change is a very real problem already felt by many around the globe suffering rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions, a problem in which landscape architects can actively contribute to mitigate and prevent in our daily work. Our professional profile and knowhow are even more relevant to society today to combat this threat.
I am a member of the American Society for Landscape Architecture ASLA and since Trump took office I have been receiving urgent calls for action to write protest letters to members of Congress and Senate about the different programs, agencies and environmental legislation that the Trump administration is dismantling, affecting the landscape profession squarely. Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a lawyer who in the past has openly called for a closing of the Agency, the 2018 federal budget already slashing the EPA budget by a third.
Alarmed by the situation as a professional body, the ASLA vice president, Nancy Somerville, delivered a letter to the EPA on May 15th demanding that important programs to mitigate and fight climate change be continued and that the research that supports these programs receive the necessary funding, while calling for the government to continue in the Paris Accord. The letter was signed by nearly 2,000 landscape architects.
The voices that have been heard since the June 1st declaration made by Trump in the Whitehouse gardens are very significant. Trump stated that he was taking the side of Pittsburg and not Paris but hours later William Peduto, mayor of Pittsburg, stated that he was appalled that his city had been mentioned in this context and that Pittsburg was committed to the Accord for the good of its people, economy and future, followed by other governors, mayors and member of Congress and Senate that made similar statements.
A strong movement is rising in the U.S. to coordinate an alliance and so demonstrate that the president does not represent the interests of the majority of citizens on this matter. Representatives of more than 30 U.S cities, 3 states, 100 companies and 80 university presidents are preparing a plan to present to United Nations to comply with the objectives that the U.S. government committed to in 2015, reducing GHG emissions 26% by 2025 with respect to 2005 levels. It seems that the leadership to reduce emissions is being shifted from the federal government to other branches of government, institutions and industry, that after all are those that carry the weight in making the objective a reality, by improving the urban model, promoting public transport and increasing the use of renewable energies among others.
On June 6th Jerry Brown, governor of California, met with President Xi Jinping of China in Beijing, sending a clear message to the world. The Chinese president with view of filling the vacant global leadership role in the fight against climate change, and the governor of California as an example of a leader committed to the environment, his state having surpassed the federal requirement for emissions control, and for having enacted a cap-and-trade system for limiting and trading emission rights, a system that China wants to put in place by the end of the year. California is the U.S. state that has most aggressively acted against GHG emissions and as 6th economy of the world has demonstrated that it has not affected its economic development, justification used by Trump to withdraw from Accord.
The main European leaders have also made statements of concern over this turn of events and have publicly renewed their commitment to the Paris agreements. Trump´s attitude seems to have brought the international community together to reaffirm action against climate change. But we shall have to wait to see how other countries react to the U.S. defection from the Accord.
Meanwhile landscape architects around the world have to redouble efforts to mitigate and fight against climate change and convince governments to invest more in green infrastructures that make our cities healthier and more sustainable. And begin to think of our roles and our design work in the important energy transition that lies ahead of us.