One of the major complaints – fair or unfair – of the Paris agreement is that there is no punishment of any form for countries that fail to meet their greenhouse gas (GHG)-slashing targets. In response to both this and America’s decision to withdraw from the accords, the European Parliament just voted overwhelmingly in favor of making the EU member states' GHG-cutting targets legally binding.
The final tally of votes was 534 to 88 for the legislation, which aims to get the bloc’s overall GHG emissions to at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 – ambitious, but definitely possible.
The EU, although wary of low-carbon nuclear power, is ditching coal in favor of wind and solar power at a remarkable pace. Several of its member states, including France and the UK, have vowed to shut down their last coal power plants within the next decade.
The approved measure also ensures that lower-income member states will be given economic assistance in helping them achieve a low-carbon economy and infrastructure. This has echoes of the Green Climate Fund, a Paris pact initiative that asks wealthy nations to donate to poorer countries for much the same reason.
Collectively, the EU is the world’s third-most prolific GHG producer, so its behavior on this issue makes a truly massive difference to the world’s efforts to curb anthropogenic climate change.
The legislation still needs to be approved by each of the member state’s individual governments, which could take a couple of years. Nevertheless, the consensus required to pass this initial legal step bodes well for its future.
Since President Trump made his globally derided announcement in the White House Rose Garden at the start of the month, the world’s most prolific GHG emitters – including the EU – have vowed not just to continue to uphold the goals of the Paris agreement, but also strengthen them over time.
“The refusal of the US to commit to the Paris agreement will push the rest of the world to be even more united against climate change,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the parliament.
Importantly, the Paris agreement isn’t just about climate change; it’s also a symbol of global cooperation during a surge in nationalism. It is no coincidence that the EU is collectively rushing to support the agreement just as internationalist governments are regaining electoral power again.
In fact, support for the agreement – and the public’s awareness of it – has arguably never been higher. Trump’s announcement was a blow for the accords, but it has also served as a rallying cry for those who want to work together to leave a better world for their grandchildren. Rather beautifully, this seems to include the entirety of the rest of the world.
Multilateralism is taking on an unprecedented array of new forms. A bipartisan coalition of states, businesses, mayors, and magnates across America have not merely promised to work with the rest of the planet, for example. They are actively donating massive amounts of money to climate funds, investing heavily in renewable energy sources in their own territories, and – perhaps most impressively – they are already signing their own climate pacts with foreign nations.
California, most notably, has already set up pacts with both China and Germany, two of the world’s most powerful and polluting nations, in order to help cut carbon footprints and develop cutting-edge low-energy tech.
Meanwhile, the newly-elected President of France has offered American climate scientists four-year-long funding grants if they come and study in the Republic, and EU politicos have banded together to tell the White House that, contrary to Trump's claims, the Paris agreement is not up for renegotiation.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s not America itself that’s isolated on the global stage when it comes to climate change – it’s the Trump administration. Today’s vote is just another example of the divide between the wider world and the President and his cronies.