Despite Paris Agreement Withdrawal, Smart Energy Marches Forward
Earlier this month, U.S. President Donald Trump made the controversial announcement that the United States would leave the Paris Climate Agreement, the landmark accord that brought together nearly all nations of the world to combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The White House’s announcement, which could significantly weaken American efforts to transition to a cleaner energy economy, was met with widespread disdain from many American business leaders, climate scientists, citizens, state governors, mayors and the global community.
However, despite President Trump’s controversial announcement, all is not lost. With or without support from the White House, there is still considerable momentum moving the United States toward a cleaner, smarter energy future.
Here are five trends that will continue despite the withdrawal from the Paris accord:
1. American business leaders want clean energy
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, initially joined several of President Trump’s advisory councils, hoping to provide influence on the benefits that solar energy, electric vehicles and battery storage would have on the American economy. However, after unsuccessfully trying to convince President Trump that the Paris accords is a step in the right direction for the American economy, Musk has left all of Trump’s councils.
And Musk is not alone among American business leaders in voicing his opposition to Trump’s decision.
While the Trump administration repeats that climate action is bad for the U.S. economy, most major U.S. companies do not agree with that assessment. On May 10, in an attempt to influence the president to remain in the Paris Agreement, 30 prominent CEOs wrote an open letter to Trump that was published in the Wall Street Journal. The signatories include 3M Company, Campbell Soup Company, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Newell Brands, Pacific Gas & Electric, Procter & Gamble, Unilever and The Walt Disney Company.
Finally, many large American businesses are taking the lead on the clean energy transition by committing to renewable energy for their operations. In fact, at least 22 Fortune 500 companies have plans to move to 100 percent renewable energy, including Walmart, Apple, General Motors and Amazon.
2. Jobs today are in solar, wind and energy efficiency – not coal
Although it has been an oft-repeated promise of the American president, coal is not coming back, and the economics don’t support a revival of the U.S. coal industry. In fact, today, jobs have already shifted to renewable energy and energy efficiency.
A report published earlier this year from the U.S. Department of Energy stated that over 370,000 Americans were employed in the solar industry last year, while jobs in coal number roughly 150,000 and are declining steadily. Wind power, another quickly growing sector, itself topped 100,000 jobs last year.
While President Trump has repeatedly promised to revive the coal industry jobs, he has failed to focus on the increasingly important role of renewable power in America’s job market and economy.
3. Utilities already moving to a business model that includes renewables
Utilities today are getting a greater proportion of their electricity from renewable sources than ever before, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. Following the White House’s announcement, executives at many American electric utility companies spoke out in support for the transition to a cleaner energy economy.
For example, Nick Akins, the CEO of American Electric Power – an Ohio-based utility that produces more coal-derived electricity than any other U.S. electric company – affirmed the clean energy transition. In a recent interview, the AEP executive stated that consumer demand, investor desires and pricing trends are all driving the electric industry away from coal and toward cleaner solutions.
4. The cost of renewable energy has dropped significantly
For years, the main gripe for many Americans about renewable energy was that it is just too costly. Debates about the future of America’s energy economy have long been centered on the choice between lowering costs or decreasing pollution. However, that has changed dramatically and rapidly in the last few years.
In many parts of the country, new renewables are now the cheapest source of energy; it’s cheaper to build new wind power plants, for example, than it is to continue operating an existing coal plant. Costs for new solar are not far behind. Transitioning the U.S. energy industry away from fossil fuels is no longer just about environmental concerns: it’s about improving the American economy now and for the long term.
5. States move forward independently on meeting climate goals
Soon after President Trump announced that the United States would leave the Paris Agreement, several governors announced that they would remain committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The Hawaiian governor, for example, has already signed two bills that support the objectives of the Paris climate accord, making Hawaii the first U.S. state to enact laws to do so.
In addition, governors from California, New York, Washington and nine other states have pledged to meet the country’s commitments for cutting greenhouse gas emissions as outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement. The group has formed a coalition, the United States Climate Alliance, to ensure that the cuts in greenhouse gas emissions planned under the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan are also carried out.
The United States is on a trajectory towards clean energy and away from coal. The reasons are complex, but the main ones are that market forces, such as competition from natural gas, solar and wind, make coal-powered plants no longer affordable; and business leaders and city and state officials are pressing forward with clean energy goals to address climate change concerns. Lastly, pressure from citizens means that the U.S. will continue to pursue affordable, clean energy solutions regardless of federal policies.