Civic Exchange Expresses Concerns Over U.S. Withdrawal From Paris Accord

HONG KONG, 5 June 2017  – As the world marks the United Nations’ World Environment Day on 5 June, Civic Exchange expresses its concern over President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord on 1 June. Civic Exchange, an independent public policy think-tank, has a particular interest in the ways that politics can affect environmental change.
The United States is one of the most technically advanced nations, with one of the highest standards of living. Its withdrawal from the Paris Accord, at a time when science tells us more action on climate change is needed, hurts everyone. In an interconnected world, the actions in Washington will impact those on the other side of the Earth – including here in Hong Kong.

What is The Paris Accord?
The Paris Accord falls under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It has been signed by 195 nations and territories, and ratified by 148, including China – which means it also applies to Hong Kong. The Paris Agreement will come into force in 2020.

On 1 June, Mr. Trump said the United States would withdraw from the Paris Accord and possibly re-negotiate. He said the Accord was “less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage.”  The United States is now the only major nation in the world to no longer be a part of it.

Some key provisions of The Paris Accord include keeping global average temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels; pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius; achieving “peak” greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible; and achieving carbon neutrality in the second half of this century.

What Does Trump’s Withdrawal Mean for Hong Kong?
All signatories to The Paris Accord – including China, under which Hong Kong falls – are required to devise their own targets and timelines to control emissions with 5-year plans. Both China and Hong Kong have created such plans for up to 2030.

China’s goals include:
·       Achieving “peaking” of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030
·       Lowering carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP to 65% of 2005 levels
·       Increasing forest stock volume by 4.5 billion cubic meters compared to 2005 levels

Hong Kong’s Climate Action Plan 2030+ was announced in January 2017. An initial plan has been made for 2020, with plan renewals set for 2025 and 2030, following The Paris Accord’s five-year structure. Hong Kong’s goals include:
·       Achieving “peaking” of carbon emissions before 2020
·       Reducing carbon intensity to 70% compared with 2005 levels by 2030

When Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing announced the plan for Hong Kong, he highlighted action on:
·       Reducing coal power plants and using more renewable energy
·       Making infrastructure and buildings more energy efficient
·       Improving public transportation
·       Promoting walking as transportation
·       Cooling the city through better urban design

Will China Now Play a Bigger Role?
Simon Ng, a Civic Exchange Fellow, recently co-authored an article for the New York-based “Dissent” magazine titled “China and the United States: Reversing Roles on Climate Change?” In that essay, Mr. Ng and the American academic Robert Gottlieb describe the scenario that led up to Trump’s rejection of The Paris Accord: “[Trump’s] selection of Scott Pruitt as EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] administrator was just the first of a series of actions and pronouncements that identify this administration as the most hostile ever to the environment,” Mr. Ng and Mr. Gottlieb wrote. “This is reflected in Trump’s love of coal and fossil fuels, his dismissal of science and regulatory intervention, and his appointments of pro-industry figures with major conflicts of interest.”
On the other hand, “China, the second-largest economy in the world and now the largest emitter of carbon emissions, appears to be heading in the other direction,” Mr. Ng and Mr. Gottlieb wrote. “China, its Premier Li Keqiang declares, is ready to wage a ‘war on pollution’ while its President, Xi Jinping, embraces a leading role for China in creating a green economy at a scale far beyond that of any other country, including the United States.”

Robert Gibson, a Civic Exchange Fellow, also saw China and other allies stepping up, as the United States backs down on its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“Prior to Trump, the United States worked very closely with China and was instrumental in moving the U.N. forward on this issue,” said Mr. Gibson. “China and the United States did a great deal to cause the Paris Accord to happen. With the United States disengaging, it’s likely that China and Europe are going to take the lead. The United States will be on the sidelines.”

“It would be good for Hong Kong to support China’s and Europe’s initiatives,” Mr. Gibson said.  “Greater leadership from China and the E.U. may allow Hong Kong to provide more input on the policies need for combating climate change.”

Hong Kong Can Lead

“It would be good for Hong Kong to support China’s and Europe’s initiatives,” Mr. Gibson said.  “Greater leadership from China and the E.U. may allow Hong Kong to provide more input on the policies need for combating climate change.”

As Hong Kong falls under The Paris Agreement, it is now our duty to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. It is also in our interests to do so, as global warming-induced climate change affects all of us.

The burning of fossil fuels, which causes greenhouse gas emissions, also causes air pollution.  Hong Kong has long battled with air pollution and needs to curb traffic growth. And yet, major planned infrastructure projects will bring more traffic to our city. There are also worrying plans to develop land on the edges of country parks, whose greenery acts as a natural “lung” to combat pollution. Public awareness is needed so that private and government developments do not harm our environment.

Civic Exchange is particularly concerned that the Government address building energy efficiency, private car usage, transportation policy, urban design, the “greening” of city neighborhoods, public open spaces like parks, street management and walkability. It will work with academics and the news media to further raise public awareness on the need for action, and to hold the Government accountable to the goals it set itself in its Climate Action Plan 2030+.

Media inquiries 

For media inquiries, please contact
Joyce Lau, jlau@nullcivic-exchange.org – English media
Cosmo Lo, clo@nullcivic-exchange.org – Chinese media. 
Tel. (852) 3622-2301.