With President Trump announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in June 2017, it’s no surprise that the administration refused to fund a country pavilion at COP 23. However, that didn’t stop the U.S. Climate Action Center from establishing its presence in Bonn and on social media (#wearestillin).
The Climate Action Center goes to show that, despite Trump’s announcement, the American people are still committed to taking action against climate change. For example, the crowd gathered at the Center booed on cue this morning when Former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg critically pointed out that the U.S. delegation to COP touts coal as an example of sustainability.
Given the current administration’s stance, non-state actors will play a pivotal role in tackling climate change in the United States. One of the biggest tools at their disposal is the fact that investors can no longer ignore the effects of climate change. According to Carroll Muffett, President and CEO for the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), climate change poses at least four risks to most investments, particularly those steeped in fossil fuel.
First, investors have to take physical impact risks into account. After all, even the fossil fuel industry isn’t impervious to the destruction caused by hurricanes or other inclement weather.
Second, investors must assess the carbon asset risk of certain investments. As the world recognizes the urgent need to reduce emissions (with or without the U.S.), massive quantities of oil and other fossil fuels will eventually be “unburnable,” and thus left in the ground. This could leave millions of dollars on the books of major fossil fuel companies. One need only look to the widespread bankruptcy of the coal industry this past decade to imagine a realistic example.
The third risk is transition risk. Companies that fail to adapt to the increasing use of clean energy run a substantial risk of being left behind in the market.
Fourth, companies can no longer ignore the risk of expensive climate change litigation–particularly since federal district courts are becoming more willing to recognize injury resulting from climate change. These courts don’t just recognize the claims of present victims: they are starting to acknowledge the claims of those exposed to the future risk of climate change, as well.
While most litigation names major oil companies as defendants, the United States government is another potential target for litigation. For example, an Oregon district court recently faced a landmark case where a group of children sued the American government, alleging its failure to take aggressive action against climate change violates their constitutional rights. Last Monday, two children from Philadelphia sued the government for the Trump administration’s inadequacies in addressing climate change.
When it comes to climate, it’s in no one’s interest to be left behind. As the COP 23 President Frank Bainimarama articulated at the COP 23 opening plenary, “we are all in the same canoe.” And despite what President Trump would have the world think, Americans are still in that canoe, trying to row along.