Architect of Paris Climate Accord Says Cities, States Should Pledge Support

Oct 24, 2017

Cities nationwide and in New Hampshire, including Concord, Nashua and Portsmouth, have pledged support for the international climate agreement known as the Paris Accord, after President Donald Trump announced his plans to withdraw from it.

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with climate change expert Dr. Edward Cameron. Cameron is one of the architects of the Paris Accord, and he’s now a New England resident. He will speak on climate change at a meeting in Brattleboro, Vermont, on Tuesday night.


(Editor’s note: this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.)

Does it make a difference when towns and cities pledge support for the [Paris] Accord like many have done now around the Granite State?

I think it makes a huge difference, both practically and politically. First of all from a practical level, the real business of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and of building societal resilience against the impacts of climate change, that happens at the local level. It happens through small and medium-sized businesses reducing their own carbon footprint. It happens through the consumption patterns and choices that we as individuals make. And at the political level, it matters enormously, because it sends a signal to the rest of the world that even though the United States federal government has decided to withdraw from the Paris agreement, that states, and cities and businesses right around the country remain committed to the transition to a low carbon future, and an economy that is both climate resilient but also inclusive. So I think both practically and politically it makes a big difference.

Are you keeping a running tab of how many municipalities have indeed signed on to that?

I'm keeping track of both the state level and the municipal level. And in addition to that, I'm looking at the number of large scale U.S. corporations that have signaled their commitment to the Paris agreement. And across all spectrum of non-state actors it's pretty significant. If you look at the private sector alone, Wal-Mart, which is the largest private sector employer in the world, they have committed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in line with the best available science, which is the same essentially as what governments committed to in Paris. If you look at the four largest companies in the world by market capitalization, they all sent submissions to the Supreme Court in support of the Clean Power Plan. So at the corporate level you see a huge wellspring of support for this. And then of course as you said earlier, at the state and at the city level. I'm very proud, for example, as a resident of Vermont, that the Republican governor of Vermont has put in place a climate change task force and has put in place a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent, and that is the equivalent of the most ambitious contribution by any government state or national, anywhere in the world. 

So what signs of climate change are you seeing specifically here in New England, and of course I’m thinking of New Hampshire, but what are we seeing in the region as far as changes thus far?

Well of course globally climate change has implications because as global mean temperature rises, we see an increase in intensity of extreme weather events. Now here in New England there are a number of major implications, the first being the changing of the seasons. And when you think of how much of the local economy here is dependent on ski season and how much of the local economy is dependent on fall foliage. Both of those are going to be heavily impacted by climate change. First and foremost we will have shorter winters with more rain, which means less quality skiing, which has huge implications for small businesses and employment. And we'll see an impact on fall foliage as well which has an impact of course on livelihoods.

In addition to that, something that I've seen that has been very prevalent during the course of this particular year is the increase in vector and waterborne diseases, and with vector borne diseases it's particularly prevalent with ticks. I've had conversations with the local medical center here in Manchester, [Vermont], and they told me that they get at least 10 phone calls per day related to ticks and Lyme disease. And we see an increase in that as climate change takes hold here in New England, because of the shorter winters, less stark winters, and as a consequence less likelihood that those ticks will die off during the course of the winter. So they come back, and they rebound in the spring far more than they did previously. So they're pretty significant consequences for people and of course for the local economy.

So what else would you like to see happen with cities and towns in the state of New Hampshire particular, but what else would you like to see happen on that municipal or state level?

Well the first thing I'd like to see on the state level is actual leadership from the governor on this issue. It was very disappointing to me that when the president decided to withdraw from the Paris Accord that the governor's response was quote he 'hasn't given this issue much thought.' And that's problematic.

This is Governor Sununu we're talking about?

This is Governor Sununu. If you haven't given thought to an issue that's going to have an impact on livelihoods, small businesses, the essential building blocks of your economy. If you haven't given much thought to the energy and land use transformation that needs to happen in the state in order to respond to climate change, then you're pretty much neglecting the biggest single issue facing, not only this state, but the country over the course of the coming decades. And as governor I think that that's a dereliction of duty. He has, I would say, a special additional obligation, which is that he is a voice within the Republican Party, a voice potentially of moderation within a national party that unfortunately has become a little extreme on this issue. And I would like to see him taking a page out of Gov. Scott in Vermont's book, because Gov. Scott has decided not only to maintain the Vermont commitment to greenhouse gas emissions reductions, he's agreed to honor the commitments in the Paris agreement, and he's also agreed to speak out nationally about this issue as a Republican governor. More locally within the cities and municipalities, I think it's very important to start putting in place policies for resilience. Because we know that climate change is already happening. We know that the impacts are already tangible. And so it's very important in municipal planning that we begin to think through already what are the local impacts, and what can we do in collaboration with each other to make ourselves resilient in the face of those impacts? And many towns and counties around New England are beginning to do that already.