President Donald Trump has given environmentalists much cause for concern. He has stated his intention to withdraw the United States from the UN’s climate talks, and to revoke U.S. funding for the UN’s clean energy initiative.
But Patricia Espinosa, the UN’s new climate chief and former Mexican diplomat, has said that although she is worried about Trump, she is confident that he cannot prevent global action to curb climate change. She also said, in a BBC News interview, that the fact that Trump has delayed making a firm announcement suggests a final decision has not been made. Espinosa will travel to the U.S. this weekend in hopes of discussing these issues with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The trip will include meeting with business leaders and civic groups as well.
Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, stated publicly when he was in that role that climate change is a genuine risk, and said the U.S. should continue to engage with the UN. “While there are a range of possible outcomes, the risk posed by rising greenhouse gas emissions could prove to be significant,” Tillerson said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in 2007. “So it has been ExxonMobil’s view for some time that it is prudent to take action while accommodating the uncertainties that remain.” However, this view is in contradiction to the U.S. administrations stated intentions regarding environmental policy.
“We are of course worried about … the possibility of the U.S. pulling out of the Paris agreement and the convention on climate change,” Espinosa said, and added that leaving the convention would be more damaging than revoking funding for the clean energy program.
The U.S. contributes about $4 million annually towards the U.N. clean energy program, and has often added another $2 million in voluntary funding. While this would be a substantial loss, Ms. Espinosa said that the rest of the world will continue to tackle the issue of climate change with or without the United States, adding that China’s willingness to take a global leadership position in curbing greenhouse gas emissions might give American diplomats pause.
Espinosa is also optimistic when considering the large number of companies and local governments that are working towards a clean energy future. “A lot of U.S. businesses are really going into the agenda of sustainability and some are making their own commitments in emissions reductions in their own operations,” she observed. “An incredible amount of cities have embarked on ambitious goals; some states like California have been for many years in the forefront of this agenda.”
In addition, Ms. Espinosa said, “[During] International Petroleum Week, I was very encouraged to hear how much some of the oil and gas companies are realising that the future of their industries is in a transformation into clean energy companies – and they have embraced this in their own interest,” she said.
“The transformation has started. I think it’s unstoppable.”