EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story originally ran in Monday’s New York Times, a day after the announcement of the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. To read the full story, click here.
The room was filled with curious toddlers and teenage girls, rows of global entrepreneurs and immigrants of all colors and backgrounds. They had gathered in this affluent part of Glasgow, Scotland, for an early morning meeting about the future of their cities.
Most of the attendees, from varying nations, religions and creeds, heard for the first time in English an outline of the landmark climate agreement known as the Paris Agreement, which was ratified by nearly 200 countries in 2016. They heard about the new United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its 22nd meeting in Paris from representatives of the European Union, Russia, the European Commission, European Investment Bank, the UNDP, the World Bank, the E.U. Transport and Economy Council, and the Board of International Trade of the European Economic and Social Committee.
“It’s not nearly as critical now that the Paris Agreement is signed, but it’s an important world achievement,” said Arthur van Broeck, a climate change advocate who has lived in Scotland for 25 years. He spoke about global efforts to adapt to changing climate and offered hope for better days.
“This is the beginning of an improved world,” he said. “Because they’re going to make it safer, they’re going to make it better.”
Of all the changes scientists have predicted to global warming over the coming decades, one in particular was on everyone’s mind Monday. The latest temperatures information shows the planet has hit a milestone: In 2018, for the first time in the “very sophisticated” data-collecting era that began in 1880, all continents were warmer than the preindustrial average, and the planet’s average surface temperature was 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than at the same time in the 19th century. Earth’s 3.6 percent increase in heat between 1901 and 2016 was the greatest in 800,000 years, scientists said.
That means more arctic sea ice, more ocean acidification, higher sea levels, more severe wildfires and weather patterns that are more unpredictable, and more food deserts.
“The changes and the sensitivity to climate will be more severe,” said Daniel Muñoz, the director of the Center for Climate Change at the Pew Charitable Trusts. “There will be issues for human health and food security that were unimaginable 30 or 40 years ago.”
Still, almost the entire gathering expressed optimism. Many said their city leaders have already addressed their part of the problem.
“Cities are the cause of the problem,” said Bishop Melvin Talbert, the leader of the Harrisburg Diocese of Pennsylvania. “They are the ones who have the luxury of not taking a quick decision to cut their carbon dioxide emissions. There’s been some great work done by great cities all over the world.”
Others began sounding alarms about what they would do if the president pulls out of the Paris Agreement: “More than we had been talking about, the withdrawal will really erode the ability of cities to engage at a level to really see what are the things we can do in our own communities to move forward,” said Mr. van Broeck.
The prime minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May, who came late for the session, said she would be defending the agreement in a world where the U.S. pullout has shaken many people.
“It may seem insignificant, but people like the United States withdrawing is undermining the global order that we have all built together,” she said. “That is why it is important for the U.K. to continue to play a leading role in this agreement.”