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Environment

How the EU Is Refusing to Let the Paris Agreement Die

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, speaks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, and Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde
AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis

“I think the people of our country will be thrilled, and I think then the people of the world will be thrilled.”

That was the prediction made by Donald Trump when he announced he would withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement on July 1.

As of today, though, that prediction doesn’t seem to be coming true. Inside the US, 69% of Americans supported staying in the agreement and 72% want aggressive climate action. Outside the US, countries have redoubled their commitment to fighting climate change.

Nowhere is this sense of opportunity and renewed resolve more pronounced than in the European Union, which is not only refusing to let the Paris agreement die in the wake of the US withdrawal, but also making the pact more aggressive.

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While many observers worried that the loss of the US would trigger a mass departure from the agreement, fearing that it would give other signatories a free pass to also avoid lowering emissions, that hasn’t proven to be the case.

Instead, the countries that had earlier looked to the US as a powerful partner turned East to create a unified front with China, the only country that emits more than the US and, therefore, the only country capable of replacing the leadership of the US.  

The day after Trump’s announcement, China and the EU issued a joint statement reaffirming their commitments and calling on other countries to continue pursuing their targets.  

Together, the two partners account for nearly 34% of global emissions, double what the US emits.

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"We are building strong global alliances to make sure that the Paris agreement, will be upheld, even after Trump's decision to step back," EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters on Monday.

The EU will now begin more openly sharing technology and innovations with China, allowing economic gains that might have flowed to the US to go elsewhere. That the EU now looks to China as its chief partner in the fight against climate change is part of a broader repositioning in the aftermath of Trump’s election.

Chinese president Xi Jinping at World Economic Forum in Davos.jpgImage: AP Photo/Michel Euler

French President Emmanuel Macron wasted no time finding the silver lining in all this when he called on US scientists to come to France to pursue climate research and set aside $34 million in funding for the initiative. He even created a campaign called “Make the Planet Great Again,” a sly take on Trump’s infamous slogan.

Then the EU roundly rejected Trump’s call to renegotiate the international framework. France, Italy, and Germany released a statement after the announcement to say that renegotiation is not possible.

“You cannot renegotiate individually,” Christiana Figueres, the former United Nations official who led the negotiations told The New York Times. “It’s a multilateral agreement. No one country can unilaterally change the conditions.”

"Climate action does not need more distractions,” said European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker last week. “We have spent 20 years negotiating. Now it is time for action."

After closing that door, the EU then moved to make the Paris agreement legally binding for its members. Although the decision still needs to be approved by individual governments, members of the EU parliament voted 534 to 88 in favor of making the agreement legally binding.

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That vote addresses one of the central criticisms of the Paris agreement — that it’s unable to actually enforce any of the targets made under its oversight and hold countries accountable.

Finally, and most importantly, EU members upped their commitments. The EU voted to accelerate the bloc-wide emissions reductions target. Previously, member states vowed to cut emissions from 1990s level by 30%-40% by 2030. Now, they’re aiming for no less than 40%.

Further, the EU parliament voted to create a rewards system for countries that surpass individual targets and vowed to help lower-income countries with the transition to sustainable economies.

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This is important because progress made against climate change in Europe. While rich countries like Germany are investing huge amounts into renewable energy, poorer countries like Poland are still heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Helping to spread the wealth will ensure that the EU hits its overall targets.

While the US may have abandoned the EU in the fight against climate change, the EU is not abandoning the US. As the federal government withdraws, opportunities for local and state action are expanding.

Following the withdrawal, mayors, governors, and business leaders immediately began reaching out to international counterparts, in defiance of Trump, to see how they could uphold US commitments to cut emissions.

And it’s through this relentless collaboration and team-building that the EU hopes to achieve the Paris climate agreement.

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“Climate change is one the most pressing global challenges that we face today,” said European Parliament President Antonio Tajani during a parliamentary gathering on Monday. “By addressing this challenge, the EU is creating new opportunities for our citizens and industry.

“Simply put, the U.S. administration’s decision is a mistake,” he said. “By working together with nations around the world we can successfully deliver a cleaner and safer planet to our citizens.”