What a week!

| 2 June 2017
Archive, Blog & Articles

As Dickens said, the best of times, the worst of times.

A whopping 62% of Exxon shareholders told the company to disclose its exposure to climate change risk. This was a major win for activists who for decades have fought Exxon’s refusal to acknowledge the decoupling of economic growth and fossil fuel use. Exxon’s funding of research and lobbying to undermine action on climate change made it a particularly rich target. But Occidental Petroleum and Pennsylvania utility PPL also saw majorities support climate risk disclosure resolutions. The vote on similar measures at seven other utilities hovered in the mid 40% range.

As for the worst of times, the majority of Americans support the Paris Agreement, which did not prevent the US president from withdrawing from the emissions-reduction treaty. Preventable Surprises Board Member Rich Pancost shared his thoughts on the news. Rich, an American citizen, is director of the Bristol-based Cabot Institute, which employs 350 scientists working on different aspects of energy/climate change.

“The decision by President Trump to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change puts the United States at odds with both science and global geopolitical norms. The fundamentals of climate change remain unambiguous: greenhouse gas concentrations are increasing; they are increasing because of human action; the increase will cause warming; and that warming creates risks of extreme weather, food crises and sea level rise. That does not mean that scientists can predict all of the consequences of global warming – much work needs to be done – but the risks are both profound and clear. Nor do we know what the best solutions will be – there is room for a robust debate about the nature and efficacy of different decarbonisation policies, and the Paris Agreement allowed great flexibility in that regard; this is why nearly every nation on Earth is a signatory.

“Moreover, although climate change affects us all, it will affect the poorest and most vulnerable the most. They, despite being least responsible, bear the greatest risks and the greatest burdens. For the president of the world’s second largest carbon polluter to blatantly disregard such evidence and injustice, to refuse to even acknowledge the consequences of its actions, and to disengage with this relatively modest and non-binding agreement puts it at odds with the norms of global partnership and human rights. And to what end? Other nations will now assume global leadership – politically, morally and technologically. It will likely cost American businesses money, hinder innovation in one of the world’s most dynamic sectors, and ultimately cost jobs. It is hard to imagine a decision so blatantly motivated by self-interest while being so profoundly self-harming.

“The crucial question now is how the rest of the world responds. China and the EU had pre-emptively stepped forward, increasing their voluntary commitments, repudiating President Trump’s decision, and assuming the mantle of leadership. In the UK, in the midst of a general election, we should expect all serious parties to do the same. The UK has always provided leadership in this arena, recognising that climate change is a non-partisan issue, and is one of the few nations with a cross-party climate change act. It is vital that we restate our understanding of the science, our commitment to act, and our ambition to lead.”