Fight or Flight: Addressing Climate Change Without US Involvement

Mark Hughes, Guest Columnist

Throughout history, humans have spent little time carefully considering the effect they have had on the planet.

From discovering how to build a fire to launching rockets into space, every aspect of progress has changed Earth.

Despite a positive view of advancements, most progress has created a detriment to Earth’s environment. Today, the issue of climate change is urgent, and without a fight to reduce emissions, we can say goodbye to the world we once knew.

Under the Trump administration, the fight against climate change is virtually invisible. In fact, Trump’s presidency has been spent trying to deny the effects of climate change and promote the continued use of natural resources.

But, this is not an argument against Trump or his administration. Instead, the question is whether or not climate change can be significantly reduced without the active participation of the U.S. government.

The answer may seem unclear and pessimistic due to the United States’ exit of the Paris Accord. Ultimately, climate change can be significantly reduced without the active help of the United States.

How? Here are three answers:

  • China and India are stepping up.
  • Europe is working on a stable international climate presence.
  • Climate change can only be solved on an international level.

China ranks second among the largest countries producing greenhouse gas emissions. China’s efforts to stem climate change could provide a meaningful reduction in those emissions.

The Atlantic’s David Graham said, “Whether or not the U.S. participates in climate pacts like Paris, the climate is going to change, and no wall can keep rising temperatures, and their effects, out.”

Guest Columnist Mark Hughes

Fortunately, even with the United States backing out of the Paris Accord, other countries are doing their job to fight carbon emissions.

Graham said, “China is definitely pushing forward. India, definitely pushing forward. They’re doing that domestically.”

That is not to say there are not any issues with the U.S. leaving the accord. Graham acknowledges it will be slightly harder to continue the fight against climate change.   

The world is moving on without the United States. The only detriment is going to be the consequences the United States will face domestically if they do not recognize the threat of climate change.”

He said, “If the U.S. is not in there, the likelihood that you’re going to get other countries doing their best is just reduced.”

A major reason China is fighting carbon emissions is because they changed their mindset about energy, which is something other countries are going to have to learn.

China sees clean, renewable energy as an economic benefit. Renewable resources add a new economic sector to their economy, which means more money and job opportunities.

What China and India are doing works — and it might be the only way climate change can be addressed.

As Elke Weber, co-director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions and the Center for Decision Sciences. explained: “Climate change action is difficult because our focus, evolutionarily, is on the here and now, and in the here and now reside the costs of action, not the benefits.”

The effects of climate change are in the future, but we as humans are not geared toward focusing heavily on the future. This deters our ability to work toward climate policy.

According to Weber, agents have to undergo a mindset change. The economic incentives that appeal to China and India motivate them enough to actively reduce CO2 emissions and, in doing so, climate change.

The U.S. lack of involvement can also be offset by Europe’s stable international climate presence. Europe is often regarded as Utopia from an international perspective, and their work towards reducing the impact of climate change may earn them that title.

When Trump announced that he would leave the Paris Climate Agreement, other countries said they would uphold the fight against rising global temperatures.  One of the largest coalition groups that jumped to fill the U.S. vacancy was the European Union.

Dave Keating, a reporter in Brussels who has been covering EU politics and policy for 12 years, writes: “The European Union will continue to lead the way in the global pursuit of climate action through the Paris Agreement based on a universal regime with rules applicable to all at COP 24.”

The EU’s commitment to upholding the Paris Climate Agreement is so strong they will not sign any free trade deals with countries that are not a part of the agreement.

Beyond Europe’s own actions to fight climate change, the international community at large looks up to the European community for leadership, an overlooked characteristic of climate policy.

A stable coalition to fight climate change is necessary. As Professor Christer Karlsson, European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management, writes: “The advocates of immediate and far-reaching measures to address climate change all emphasize the importance of leadership.”

A survey Karlsson conducted demonstrates that Australia and countries in Asia, Africa and North America look up to the European Union as a leader on climate change policy. “First, when it comes to the issues of reaching future agreements and mitigation, the EU and China hold strong positions and are clearly the two actors which prospective followers look to for leadership.”

The world is moving on without the United States. The only detriment is going to be the consequences the United States will face domestically if they do not recognize the threat of climate change.

Climate policy only works on an international level. The U.S. alone was not doing enough to fight climate change.

Professor Brigham Daniels has expertise in environmental law, property law, and natural resources law.  He said, “For a number of years, many within the environmental legal community have advocated an all-out attack strategy of forcing the United States to address climate change by bringing novel lawsuits under existing environmental laws.”

The United States had too many domestic issues to address climate change even before Trump. Many congressional candidates were voted out of office for supporting environmental policies, skepticism of climate change was rampant in politics, and more than half of Americans thought scientists faked data on climate change.

The Environmental Protection Agency was not ready to tackle the issue because of attacks against the agency by politicians and the general public.

Dr. David Belis, a postdoctoral research fellow at Leuven International and European Studies, introduced a concept called multiple bilateralism, defined as multiple states working towards a common goal.

He said, “Global (climate) politics has become more multipolar, as the rise of the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) added new key players to the field, bringing with it new sets of bilateral relations.”

This means that climate change and environmental policies work best when multiple nations are involved.

India has pledged to fight climate change by tackling their coal industries, China sees climate change as an economic industry for new industries, and the EU operates as the main leader to reduce emissions.

Belis writes: “As a rising economic power and – since 2006 – the world’s largest emitter, China felt under pressure from the EU and the U.S. to take on greater responsibilities, adopt a (legally binding) target and break down the ‘firewall’ between developing and developed countries embodied in the common but differentiated responsibilities principle under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.”

International cooperation can and will significantly reduce climate change — even without the United States.