The United Nations is acknowledging that some countries may be retreating in the effort to fight climate change, recognizing an emerging fissure in the landmark Paris Agreement as U.S. President Donald Trump moves forward with plans to gut environmental programs.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who assumed leadership of the international body this year, told delegates at UN headquarters in New York that he remained optimistic that any withdrawal by national leaders will be offset by businesses and local governments that have pledged to continue cutting emissions.
“Even if some national governments backtrack in commitments, the combined impacts of sub-national authorities, businesses and civil society will create an unstoppable momentum,” Guterres said at the meeting on climate change and sustainable development.
Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister, didn’t single out the U.S. or Trump, who has called climate change a hoax and has threatened to pull out of the Paris Agreement. The secretary-general’s comments come as Trump pushes to dismantle programs to fight global warming. Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama was a vocal advocate for curbing emissions and supported UN climate negotiations that led to the landmark global agreement in 2015.
Last week, Trump called for relaxing fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks and released a budget with sweeping cuts to climate change research and grants for clean energy development. In Germany, meanwhile, the U.S. successfully pushed to remove a reference to climate change from a statement issued following a Group of 20 meeting in Germany.
The UN meeting drew delegates, environmental groups and state and local leaders from around the world. Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said his state was moving forward to close coal plants and cut emissions, despite Trump’s vow to increase fossil fuel use.
“Our progress in Washington State is not going be stopped by anyone at anytime,” Inslee said during a panel discussion at the UN event. “You can count on the state of Washington to move forward.”
The forum provided UN delegates with one of their first opportunities to discuss climate change since the signing of the Paris accord last April. Without directly referencing the U.S., China’s UN ambassador Liu Jieyi urged all nations to honor their commitments.
“All signatories should stick to it instead of walking away,” Liu told his fellow delegates. “Regardless of the changes in the international landscape, China remains committed and will respond to climate change.”
The pledge from China came after dozens of national delegates reconfirmed their support for the Paris accord, including Germany, South Korea and Bangladesh. A representative from the U.S. was not scheduled to speak.