Universities defy Trump and sign up to climate action

Around 225 higher education institutions are among more than 1,400 governors, mayors, businesses, investors, and colleges and universities from across the United States, or with significant operations in the US, who have signed up to a declaration to continue to ensure that the US “remains a global leader in reducing carbon [emissions]”.

The universities have joined with a broad cross-section of American organisations assembled in pursuit of climate action, sending a strong signal to the international community and the other 194 parties to the Paris Agreement about the “continued commitment of the US to ambitious action on climate change [despite] absent leadership at the federal level”, according to a press statement on behalf of the signatories of the ‘We Are Still In’ declaration.

The declaration says: “We, the undersigned mayors, governors, college and university leaders, businesses, and investors are joining forces for the first time to declare that we will continue to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement.”

The action is a direct rebuke to President Trump who pulled out of the agreement with an announcement from the garden of the White House earlier this month, saying: “I am fighting every day for the great people of this country. As of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.”

The US president said he "cares deeply about the environment" but "cannot in good conscience support a deal that punishes the United States" and talked about beginning renegotiation of the terms of the deal, even though the terms are already non-binding.

But the ‘We Are Still In’ declaration says Trump's announcement “undermines a key pillar in the fight against climate change”.

It was coordinated by the American Sustainable Business Council, B Team, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Center for American Progress, Ceres, CDP, Climate Mayors, Climate Nexus, C40, C2ES, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Entrepreneurs, Georgetown Climate Center, ICLEI, National League of Cities, Rocky Mountain Institute, Second Nature, Sierra Club, the Climate Group, We Mean Business, and World Wildlife Fund.

The declaration says: “In December 2015 in Paris, world leaders signed the first global commitment to fight climate change. The landmark agreement succeeded where past attempts failed because it allowed each country to set its own emission reduction targets and adopt its own strategies for reaching them.

“In addition, nations – inspired by the actions of local and regional governments, along with businesses – came to recognise that fighting climate change brings significant economic and public health benefits.”

Key pillar

“The Trump administration's announcement undermines a key pillar in the fight against climate change and damages the world's ability to avoid the most dangerous and costly effects of climate change. Importantly, it is also out of step with what is happening in the United States.”

The signatories declare that in the absence of leadership from Washington, states, cities, colleges and universities, businesses and investors, representing a sizeable percentage of the US economy, will pursue ambitious climate goals, working together to take forceful action and to ensure that the US remains a global leader in reducing emissions.

“It is imperative that the world know that in the US, the actors that will provide the leadership necessary to meet our Paris commitment are found in city halls, state capitals, colleges and universities, investors and businesses. Together, we will remain actively engaged with the international community as part of the global effort to hold warming to well below two degrees Celsius and to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy that will benefit our security, prosperity, and health.”

The signatories include leaders from 125 cities, 9 states, 902 businesses and investors, in addition to 225 colleges and universities. Participating cities and states represent 120 million Americans and contribute US$6.2 trillion to the US economy, and include New York, Los Angeles and Houston as well as smaller cities such as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Dubuque, Iowa.

Among the many university leaders signed up to the declaration are Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University; Timothy White, chancellor of the California State University System; Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley; and Andrew Hamilton, president of New York University.

Timothy White said: "Climate change is a global challenge, but local decisions have a major impact. Our cumulative action is what will make the difference for current and future generations. California is currently and historically a leader on environmental stewardship, and the California State University [CSU] plays a significant role in our state's work.

“Now is the time to be vigilant, and the CSU is redoubling our efforts. All 23 campuses of the CSU system, comprising more than 500,000 students and employees, will help in the fight against climate change. Our participation in ‘We Are Still In’ will also create new opportunities for our students, faculty and staff as they find solutions to sustainability challenges and lead in this global effort."

Michael Crow said: “Our role as universities and knowledge enterprises is to prepare for the future.”

This included preparing for a planet of 10 billion people and the opportunities and threats this would bring. Achieving sustainable economic growth and protecting natural systems such as the oceans and atmosphere for future generations would require global cooperation on an unprecedented scale and the ratification of the Paris Agreement by nearly every country was an “important start to this essential process”.

He said in the past 25 years Arizona State University, or ASU, has emerged as one of the leading knowledge enterprises focused on sustainability and the future. Through the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute for Sustainability, its centres and its more than 400 research faculty, and through our School of Sustainability, ASU has been focused on finding sustainable solutions for all human endeavours and for continued economic growth going forward.

’No country is an island’

“All of these efforts have taught us that no country is an island. We must pull together to address the issues of massive-scale economic progress and sustainability.”

A mixture of private universities, state universities and community colleges, both small and large, have added their institutions to the statement. In total the undersigned businesses and investors account for a total annual revenue of US$1.4 trillion and include more than 20 Fortune 500 companies, including Apple, eBay, Gap Inc, Google, Intel, Microsoft, and Nike, in addition to hundreds of small businesses which have also signed the statement.

The press statement says the signatories all understand that the Paris Agreement is a blueprint for job creation, stability and global prosperity and that accelerating the United States’ clean energy transition is an opportunity – not a liability – to create jobs, spur innovation, promote trade and ensure American competitiveness.

In addition to this statement, since President Trump’s announcement to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, 211 ‘Climate Mayors’ have adopted the Paris Agreement goals for their cities, 13 governors have formed the bipartisan United States Climate Alliance, and 17 governors have released individual statements standing by the Paris Agreement.