Leaving Paris Accords: A Bad Idea

Early this month, the president announced that the U.S. is pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement.  We have now joined Syria and Nicaragua as the only three countries in the world who have not signed this agreement.  

The Paris Agreement is a non-binding agreement that asks countries to set goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  The signing countries agreed to a goal of limiting global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius.  The goal the U.S. set for itself was a 26% emission reduction from 2005 levels by 2025.  

These goals are well within sight for the U.S.  But here’s the thing: these are voluntary goals.  There is no punishment for failing to reach these goals.  Therefore, there was no practical reason to leave the agreement.  

In pulling out of the Paris Agreement, we have forfeited our role as a global leader.  Our entering into this agreement was a show of confidence, a means to encourage other countries, particularly high-emitting developing countries such as India and China, to commit to lowering their emissions as well.  It worked.  China and India (and 195 other countries) signed the agreement.  China has now emerged as a global leader in renewable energy.

The president has cited jobs as a major factor in his decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement.  What he did not address is the hundreds of thousands of jobs emerging in the renewable energy sector.  These are growing fields, and the potential for growth in these fields is enormous.  Just last year in Georgia, solar energy jobs grew by 23%, adding 3,924 jobs to our state.

In his speech announcing our exit from the Paris Agreement, President Trump stated that he was not elected to represent Paris, but Pittsburgh.  In response, Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto replied, “I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future.”

Peduto is not alone in vowing to work locally to reduce emissions, despite a lack of federal support.  In fact, 187 mayors from across the country (including Kasim Reed of Atlanta) and 10 governors have vowed to uphold the goals of the Paris Agreement.

It is notable that many high-ranking officials in the president’s administration, as well as those in industry (even the fossil fuel industry!) advocated remaining in the agreement.  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as well as industry leaders of Shell Oil, GE, IBM, and Google, among others, have argued against leaving this agreement.  

As we look at the decision to leave the Paris Climate Agreement, what stands out to me is that we have taken ourselves out of the picture.  We have taken ourselves out of discussions about solutions.  We have taken ourselves out of planning for new renewable energy-based industries and jobs.  We will be left behind if we do not act as towns, cities, and states.  We must do this ourselves; it looks like our president will not.

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