Global sub-state governance: how Trump matters less

Global sub-state governance: how Trump matters less. Foto: Neil Hinchley / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Blog Elcano
Global sub-state governance: how Trump matters less. Foto: Neil Hinchley / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Blog Elcano
Photo: Neil Hinchley / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Some years ago the humorist Art Buchwald (1925-2007), on the eve of a visit to Washington by Jerry Brown, then and now the governor of California, wondered whether California would continue being part of NATO. After Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris climate change agreement, the question can be turned on its head, because California has emerged at the head of a series of American states, cities and companies vowing to continue respecting the commitments that have been adopted. It remains, while the US leaves. It is more than symbolic.

The Paris Agreement –together with the decision on the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030– are the best example of what this blog has previously referred to as inductive global governance, from the bottom up. The resistance to Trump’s hostility to the agreement is another. California is not negligible: it has succeeded in imposing at a national level its carbon emission restrictions for vehicles, and it has done so by virtue of having 39 million inhabitants (more than Canada, and slightly less than Spain) but with a GDP that makes it the sixth largest economy in the world.

California, New York, Washington and a dozen other states –including two with Republican governors– plus cities, including the 10 largest, such as the Big Apple itself and Los Angeles as well as the capital, Washington DC, and some large companies, have signed up to a coalition called the United States Climate Alliance. They account for 30% of the US economy and more than 52 million inhabitants. In terms of carbon emissions, however, these states account for only 18% of the US total, because the most polluting (headed by Texas) are with Trump.

California’s dynamism goes beyond its influence within the US. It extends also to the international stage. Brown is behind a joint plan with Canada and Mexico to create a pact, albeit a voluntary one, honouring the Paris goals. Indeed, last week he went to see the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, who met and endorsed him in Beijing, no doubt remembering that he and Obama were decisive in pulling off the Paris Agreement. California and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology signed an agreement to cooperate on green energy technologies. Trump has scrapped the US national plan –national plans being a requirement– drawn up by Obama for a 26% cut in 2005 emission levels by 2025, something that will now be difficult to achieve. But California may be becoming the de facto international negotiator for the US on environmental issues.

We may in other words be witnessing something that is not entirely without historical precedent: global governance that is not limited to nation states, but also includes sub-state and private entities, NGOs (many sectors are regulated by them worldwide) and companies: many in the US have declared their opposition to Trump’s environmental plans (among other reasons because they have invested in alternative energies and natural gas).

What with this, the crisis between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and other developments, Trump must be discovering that politics, both domestic and foreign, is a more complex business than he had been expecting. He may also discover that the White House, although it matters, does so less than before, in a more complex world where power is more diffuse. For better and for worse. Because, for example, even before applying the Paris Agreement, EU emissions had increased 0.5% in 2015, and fallen in the US by 3% last year, owing to the transition from coal and oil to natural gas, the new manna from heaven deriving from North American shale. And whatever Trump may think, as far as American coal mining jobs are concerned, the majority were lost in the 1960s and 70s as a result of technological advances. They are unlikely to return, however much the current occupant of the White House would like them to.

Inductive governance such as this is not only applicable to environmental matters: states are also starting to demand that it be applied, for example, to the fight against jihadist terrorism, which uses the Internet as a forum for recruiting and training its militants. It is essential that platforms such as Google, Twitter and Facebook, to mention only the most well known, cooperate in this fight, as the British Prime Minister requested in the wake of the attacks in Manchester and London.

Twitter claims that between July and December last year it used algorithms to delete 376,000 accounts suspected of promoting terrorism. Facebook takes similar measures, combining automation and human intervention. Its founder and president Mark Zuckerberg has said that artificial intelligence may play a significant role in such work in the near future. In any event, Silicon Valley will be key to this type of fight against terrorism. Global governance is no longer the exclusive province of nation states. Although they will continue to be crucial, they need the help of other actors. And such actors may sometimes turn against national governments if they do not see eye to eye.