Despite U.S. Withdrawal, Paris Agreement Commitments are Here to Stay

by Sweizenblut

The Paris Climate Agreement, the culmination of a global framework to address climate change, was a first in terms of international cooperation. The agreement, which was negotiated in 2015 and officially took effect on November 4, 2016, has been ratified by 148 of the 197 nations party to the accord. Under the agreement, each country pledged to take specific measures to keep global temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius over the course of the century and committed to further unspecified actions aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

On June 1, the U.S. surprised the international community with the decision to withdraw from the agreement. The stated intention to withdraw won’t bear ramifications until 2020, but the uncertainty generated by the announcement has inspired municipalities, states and corporations to respond.

Responsible energy management and waste reduction isn’t just wise, as it turns out, but it’s something that the political community, business community and even the public genuinely wants – with or without the top-down impetus of the federal government’s embrace of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Widespread support for action on climate change

Despite the course of action being taken by the U.S. federal government, public opinion is as strong as ever in support of changing climate policy. A Yale University study found that a majority of the public in every state supports the Paris Climate Agreement. The same study revealed that 69% of American voters support remaining in the agreement. Not to mention, consumers, particularly young consumers, are sufficiently motivated by environmental considerations that it bears direct impact on their economic choices.

That public pressure is being felt by officials, who are translating it into local legislation. Cities and states have decided to continue without the endorsement of the federal government. On June 6, Hawaii’s Governor David Ige signed a bill adhering to the goals laid out in the Paris agreement. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto responded to the federal withdrawal announcement by signing an executive order to cut the city’s energy use in half by 2030, with an additional goal to draw 100% of its energy that year from renewable sources. He’s not alone: 175 other U.S. mayors and counting have committed to uphold the ideals laid out in the Paris Agreement.

The catalyst for supporting the Paris Climate Agreement agenda in the absence of any formal national commitment is not limited to just public opinion and local government initiatives. Business leaders across a number of industries, spurred by the announcement of U.S. withdrawal, are galvanizing around the accord, citing not just environmental interests, but economic considerations such as reduced trade opportunities and potentially even increased tariffs.

Many business leaders across all sectors expressed a spirit of perseverance in spite of formal withdrawal. Perhaps most of all, this matters because of what it suggests about the fundamental nature of the Paris Agreement: far from the case of global elites forcing businesses and public projects to comply with onerous and economically damaging environmental restrictions, international governments were simply yielding to the will of their businesses (pushed by increasing consumer demand) and people in formalizing a framework for constructive climate action.

Real-world projects continue to support global climate consensus

Projects and initiatives to reduce energy use and introduce alternative energies have been underway for years in many U.S.-based businesses.

For starters, leading businesses understand that the renewable energy market is driving job creation. The renewable energy industry supports more than 3.3 million jobs. Between Q2 2015 and Q1 2016, the renewable market experienced 18% growth and it’s continuing to expand at a rapid pace.

Eco-friendly corporate energy policies have also been found to reduce operating overhead. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), money saved in energy costs is often reinvested in business programs that improve competitiveness, profitability and product quality. Depending on the specific investments, the IEA found that operational benefits related to energy efficiency can be worth 2.5 times the total value of energy savings. In other words, every dollar saved on energy could generate up to $2.50 in associated operational improvements.

Beyond improved operations, leading businesses understand that clean energy practices and green policies are a major component of a truly forward-thinking enterprise. For years, some of the largest and most successful businesses have been working to reduce their carbon footprints through alternative energy production and use. Google, for example, is aiming to run 100% of its facilities and data centers on renewable energy this year. Similarly, Microsoft has powered its global facilities on 100% renewable energy for years, and is aiming to bring its data centers into the fold as well – 50% are slated to run on renewables by 2018.

Evidence of this unambiguous business-minded embrace of greener pastures is ever-present, with few examples more surprising than from those of oil companies. Giants like Shell, who went as far as to issue a public appeal to President Trump to remain in the agreement, have been extremely vocal in their support for the accords and Shell’s CEO, Ben van Beurden, has been an outspoken advocate for renewable technologies.

Reduced carbon emissions: a matter of environment, economics and popular support

The forceful response from elected officials, businesses and the public alike have made it very clear that the Paris Agreement is here to stay.

Public officials understand that the Paris Agreement is of utmost importance, both to their constituents and to the enterprises who conduct business within their jurisdictions.

The real drivers of change – investment and purchasing power – are clearly embracing eco-friendly policies and have been doing so for years. The people at the heart of the U.S. economy, whether it’s the Main Street consumer or some of the most powerful executives in the world, largely support the Paris accord and intend to carry forth the framework with or without the federal government’s support. It’s clear that the United States’ withdrawal from the agreement is unlikely to significantly impact the lasting value of the accord, since so many private enterprises along with the public that bankrolls them public have already embraced its goals.

Ultimately, enlightened economic interests and concern for the well-being of the planet Trump political drama and nominally protectionist machinations. And if consumers, local governments, and industry leaders have anything to say about it, the American economy will continue to push for more progressive climate policy and more innovative technologies.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos