Coming transformation on climate change in the US

Led by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, young activists and their supporters rally for action on climate change on September 20, 2019 in New York City. PHOTO: DREW ANGERER/AFP
We have known about the denial of climate change by president Trump of the United States and that he has decided to withdraw his country from the Paris Agreement and is also actively undermining efforts in the US to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

However, joining Greta Thunberg on the climate strike and march in New York on Friday, along with more than 200,000 young people from the US, has given me greater hope that president Trump may not represent the people of the US when it comes to climate change and that the presidential and congressional elections in 2020 will see a big change in the US.

Let me try to explain my reasons for this sense of optimism.

Firstly, it is quite clear that there is a very big divide amongst young people in the US who really do understand the climate change emergency and are pushing for action. They are the voters of the future and can change the political landscape if they vote in large numbers in 2020. They were out on the streets of every major US city on Friday showing their determination.

Secondly, the Democratic party has taken a major step forward in recognising that the climate change emergency is real and each and every one of the presidential candidates have pledged to take it seriously. They have all come out in support of the Green New Deal. Indeed, they held a single topic debate on climate change and how each of them will tackle it, which would have been extremely unlikely even a few years ago. In fact, Senator Bernie Sanders has adopted the most far reaching position on global climate justice.

Thirdly, many states, led by California as well as cities led by New York are developing their own strategies to tackle climate change and abide by the Paris Agreement on their own.

California by itself is the 8th largest global economy and has adopted a policy to become carbon neutral by 2045.

However the most important change that is visible everywhere in the US, particularly with regard to investment in energy and technology, is the move away from fossil fuel companies and towards renewable energy. In fact, it is quite self-evident that coal investment is now dead and even states and cities with Republican governors and mayors are allowing significant investment in both solar as well as wind energy as they are cheaper and less polluting, as well as generating good green jobs.

Finally, the most important part of the realisation and acceptance of climate change is that the people can see the reality of adverse climatic impacts such as hurricane Dorian, rain and flooding in Texas and wildfires in California. In cities like Miami which is very vulnerable to sea level and sea side properties, some of the most expensive have become uninsurable and hence have dropped in value.

It is of course difficult to predict what will happen in the 2020 elections but there is no doubt that one of the biggest issues that Democrats and Republicans will fight over is climate change.

In the next week the United Nations Secretary General has called the Climate Action Summit where world leaders from governments, cities and companies have been invited to come with plans not speeches. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is one of the invited leaders but President Trump has not been invited, which is causing some embarrassment for the public in the US.

The objective of this summit is to encourage countries and others to step up their ambitions to tackle climate change beyond their commitments under the Paris Agreement, while at the same time shaming those countries like the US and Australia, who are failing to even meet their Paris Agreement commitments. This is a significant move for the UN Secretary General to actually shame countries for failing to take action.

During the rest of the week there will be other events including a major Youth Day with Greta Thunberg and youth from around the world.

On the following Friday the school children will have another climate strike around the world to give their reflections on the achievement of the summit.

There is also a major global climate change communications week by all the leading global and national media outlets which will be carrying news and articles on climate action around the world.

Originally this article was published on September 25, 2019 at  The Daily Star. The author Dr. Saleemul Huq is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).