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US leaving Paris Agreement: Climate action not too dependent on election results

M Ramesh Chennai | Updated on November 04, 2020 Published on November 04, 2020

The US’ wind capacity increased from 83 GW in 2016 to 106 GW in 2019   -  Reuters

At the time this is written, the US presidential elections are still wide open. And today (Wednesday), the US has formally exited the Paris Agreement.

Joe Biden has promised that he would bring the US back into the Paris Agreement if he wins. If Trump wins, the nearest date for any US return to the climate pact is four years away.

 

So, are climate watchers worried? Well, yes and no. Because, even if Trump becomes the President again, while it sets the clock back a little, there is not a great deal of damage done.

This is because in the United States, the state governments and non-state actors, mainly the corporate sector, have remained committed to fighting climate change during the last four years.

Rise in renewable power

Even as Trump throws his weight behind coal, more coal power capacity was shut down during his presidency than in the second term of Obama’s presidency – 37 GW compared with 33 GW. Reason: competition from renewable energy—something that is currently seen in India too. Also, according to Standard & Poor, the global rating and research agency, another 27 GW of coal-fired power plants are likely to be shut down by 2025.

Electricity generation from coal-fired power plants declined 30 per cent between 2016 and 2019. Alongside, renewable energy has continued to rise. The US’ wind capacity increased from 83 GW in 2016 to 106 GW in 2019, and wind power is today the largest source of energy.

Likewise, utility-scale solar now accounts for 40 per cent of new electricity generation capacity added in the US. The Trump administration brought in tariffs on solar cells and modules imported from China, but that didn’t stop solar from growing: it grew 73 per cent over 2016, to reach 76 GW in 2019.

We are still in’

US corporate giants such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple have announced plans to turn themselves carbon neutral. Google announced in September that achieved that goal by purchasing offsets. While these are marquee examples, a groundswell of support to the climate cause is underway in the US.

These people—state governments, city halls, tribal governments, companies, college campuses, places of worship, cultural institutions—all came forward to weave themselves into a coalition called ‘We are still in’. At the annual global climate conferences (CoPs), it is common to see Americans walking around wearing badges saying ‘We are still in’--a sort of a rebuff to Trump.

Over the past four years, about 4,000 US entities – cities, states, businesses, universities – have joined the coalition. “These local leaders come from all the 50 states and represent over half the US population, nearly two-thirds of the economy and more than half the country’s emissions,” says a press release issued today by https://www.wearestillin.com. It notes that the action of these entities could reduce US emissions up to 37 per cent of what they were in 2005, by 2030. The coalition is talking about “a vision for non-federal climate action in 2021 and beyond.”

Former Governor of California, Jerry Brown, said in a statement today called the US pulling out of the Paris Agreement “crazy”. However, he added: “But remember, most of the country is still in.”

Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York and founder of Bloomberg, said today that the “American people never supported that decision (pulling out of Paris Agreement).” He said that climate action in the US has progressed in the last four years “despite the White House’s best efforts to drag the country backwards.”

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Published on November 04, 2020
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