When I interviewed United Nations General Assembly President Peter Thomson and asked him about President Trump’s recent decision to withdraw from the 195-country Paris climate change agreement, I thought he would respond with an angry condemnation of the U.S. leader’s decision.
After all, U.N. experts have called Trump’s June 2 pullout from the global agreement a potentially catastrophic decision for the planet’s efforts to reduce global warming. And Thomson himself is a diplomat from Fiji, a South Pacific country of 333 islands, several of which are already threatened by rising sea levels.
But to my big surprise, Thomson told me that he’s not too concerned about Trump’s decision, which has been criticized by governments across the world.
“Perhaps the impact has been, in many ways, more positive than negative,” Thomson said. “I think there’s a surge of realization around the world about the need for climate action. People who were maybe just sitting on the sidelines before have been moved to realize that they have to step up with the great majority of the world in taking climate action.”
He said he noticed that movement during the U.N. Ocean Conference held June 5 to 9, shortly after Trump’s decision. At that meeting, he said, there was a “hugely positive wave” of support for action against climate change, which included “a very big input from America’s civil society, states and cities.”
Aren’t you trying to make the best of Trump’s decision, I asked. Aren’t you afraid that, in addition to slowing down global efforts to fight global warming, the U.S. decision may give an excuse to other major polluting nations to withdraw from the deal themselves?
But he said no. “I think what you’re seeing all the way from Europe to China and in the developing world, indeed everywhere I look, is that people are saying, ‘Hey, this only makes us stronger,’ ” Thomson said. “There is, obviously, a funding aspect to this in terms of the green climate fund, (but) I’m confident that people will step up on that. And I remind you that the biggest investors in renewable energy are American investors.”
He explained that “renewable energy is just good economic sense. The move from the oil age to the age of renewable energy is on. We’ve passed the tipping point on that, and American business knows that.”
All of that is resulting in a “tidal wave of support” for action against climate change, Thomson said.
Asked for specific examples of what is being done, Thomson cited the U.N. partnerships with celebrities such as billionaire Richard Branson and Prince Albert of Monaco to petition governments to protect 30 percent of their oceans by 2030. There is already an ongoing U.N. plan to have 10 percent of the oceans protected by 2020, and “I think that’s going to be doable,” he said.
When I asked him what people around the world — not just governments — could do to save the oceans, Thomson said that people should use clean energy sources, stop eating fish from unsustainable fish stocks — such as certain types of tunas — and stop using single-use plastic bags.
“By the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish,” he said. “And all that plastic that goes in to the ocean is going to end up inside our bodies” because it is eaten by small sea organisms, which in turn are eaten by bigger fish.
My opinion: After talking with Thomson and watching the results of the June 20 Paris Climate Change meeting, attended by world leaders and the governors of key U.S. states such as California, I’m more optimistic that Trump’s insane decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord will be overcome by more responsible forces.
Already, the governors of California, New York, Washington state and key U.S. cities have created an informal “climate alliance” to meet — and often exceed — the goals of the Paris Climate Accord. And major U.S. technology firms are joining them, which may end up minimizing the harmful impact of Trump’s short-sighted decision. The world may not melt for now, despite Trump.
Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172; email: [email protected]. Column courtesy of the Associated Press.