Leaders attending the North American Climate Summit in Chicago this week signed a charter aligning with the commitments of the Paris Climate Agreement, despite President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the accords earlier this year.
Despite Trump's unwillingness to participate until the agreement is renegotiated, individual American companies - along with USA states and cities - have stepped up their commitment to the deal.
"Ultimately, the work is up to each of us", Obama told attendees. "Cities and states and businesses and universities and nonprofits have emerged as the new face of American leadership on climate change". They also agreed to meet goals similar to those in the Paris climate accord, which President Trump announced earlier this year the USA would withdraw from.
Technically, the USA can't give notice of its departure from the non-binding agreement until November 2019 under terms agreed upon when the pact was negotiated in 2015.
Chicago Chief Sustainability Officer Chris Wheat says the idea is to "fill the void" the Trump administration has left.
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Discussions will also devise concrete actions related to UNESCO's Declaration of Ethical Principles in Relation to Climate Change which outlines globally-agreed ethical principles that should guide decision-making and policy-making at all levels and help mobilize people to address climate change.
There are many specific pledges in the charter signed today, including: investing in public transit and reducing the carbon footprint in new and existing buildings and infrastructure.
Without mentioning Trump by name, Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff to Obama, said Trump is in denial on climate change but shouldn't ignore science. But the cities' mayors need to do more to address the disproportionate health burdens in their low-income and minority communities impacted by climate change, activists say.
Obama pointed out that after his administration took steps to cut carbon emissions and signed on to the Paris climate accord "we saw the USA economy grow consistently".
Mexico City Mayor Angel Mancera says in a statement that his sprawling capital of about 9 million is committed to combating climate change through programs such as ensuring all residents have access to alternative transportation like walking and cycling, as a matter of land use policy.
Cities from across the US -including New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington-have all said they will commit to lowering their carbon footprint and take action on their own without President Trump. "We are stuck with that, at least for a couple more years", Jackie Biskupski (D), mayor of Salt Lake City, said at the conference.