Movement News / June 5, 2017

With Trump’s Retreat on Climate Pact, Local Leaders and Civil Society are Leading

Jillian Murphy
Strategy & Planning Manager, Climate Fund


Last week, President Trump announced the United States will withdraw from the landmark Paris Climate Accord, an historic international agreement that would hold the world’s nations accountable to reducing carbon pollution and averting the worst risks of climate change. The agreement was decades in the making and ratified by more than 190 countries on November 4, 2016 – just four days before the presidential election that shook the American political establishment.

While the technical route to withdrawal is a years-long process, not a quick and dirty fix as candidate Trump promised, the fact that an American president rebuked science and exited such a widely supported international agreement demonstrates how far we have to go. The decision – and the administration’s promotion of alternative facts as its rationale – puts our country, our planet in even greater peril and has left many climate activists and everyday citizens feeling depressed, scared, and without hope.

But all hope is not lost.

Getting to the Paris Agreement was a long road paved by smart, deliberate American leadership, and required significant domestic victories to bring along others in the global community. But veteran organizers can tell you these successes were usually won by a very thin margin. And it’s that razor thin edge where the battle remains.

“America is the home to innovators, inventors, builders and entrepreneurs. Progressives must promote a vision of what America can be – not just as a leader on climate change, but as a global innovator.”

With leadership on climate coming from the states – including the governors and mayors that took courageous stances in support of the Accord in the wake of the administration’s announcement – the battle for a safe and sustainable planet can be won through the grassroots momentum that is now building in states across the country. The Democracy Alliance’s Climate Fund helps resource the organizations that are fueling such momentum and using it to build and leverage the political power needed to win progressive electoral and climate policy victories. If there’s one thing the Resistance has taught us, it’s that we must boldly proclaim a progressive vision for America.

The climate crisis will not be overcome by technocrats’ perfect emissions trading scheme, but by energized, engaged voters who loudly and consistently demand more from their country. To many of these voters, America is the home to innovators, inventors, builders and entrepreneurs. Progressives must promote a vision of what America can be – not just as a leader on climate change, but as a global innovator, a job creator, and the home of opportunity for all.

We must maintain hope that this vision of America is not far off – and indeed already exists in some small pockets – while creating the conditions needed to make it a reality.  Here’s what that vision could look like:

America can be the country of bold new technologies that power our homes, businesses, cars and factories without tainting our air and making us sick. America can be the country of good-paying, union jobs that employ members of the community to install solar panels and make our buildings more energy efficient. America can be the country where low-income families not only can dream of reaching the middle class, but also low-cost job training for their sons and daughters to secure a middle-class life of their own. We can achieve this vision, and it starts in the states.

In California, the world’s sixth largest economy, the state senate just passed one of the most ambitious renewable targets in the country – to generate 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar by the year 2045. Because California’s actions are emulated around the world – and it has already shown that economies can grow while emissions decline – the legislation has huge potential ramifications.

With support from the Climate Fund, local organizing groups in Florida injected climate justice into the narrative around a key state senate district last November – and they won, not only flipping the incumbent’s position on fracking but also seeing anti-fracking legislation introduced in both houses of the legislature. In a Republican trifecta like Florida, building broad, state-wide power is even more essential, and we must do more to elect a climate champion as governor next year.

But we don’t have to wait until 2018 to send a clear message that Americans will not stand for Trump’s pillaging of climate progress. This November, voters in Virginia will select a new governor, attorney general, and representatives to all 100 seats in the House of Delegates.  While organizing groups must build power among voters, donors also can leverage their power through programs like GiveGreen in the States to elect climate champions in state legislatures, as attorneys general and governors – all of which are key to winning in Virginia this year. Governor Terry McAuliffe’s recently announced plan to address climate change will be in the hands of the next governor – and we must ensure that legacy is secure and built upon further.

When President Trump says his actions to cancel this agreement will Make America Great Again, he might be right – by ceding global leadership on climate and clean energy to Europe and China, he’s feeding the fire under a new movement of activists here at home. These voters are pushing their state and local leaders to action because that is the America they seek. Building this power in the states means the razor thin margin of victories past will be widened in our favor, and it’s there that the clean energy future will prevail.


If you would like to learn more about the Democracy Alliance’s Climate Fund, please contact Roger Kim at rkim@democracyalliance.org.