The President of the United States announced today that the U.S. is pulling out of the Paris agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This wasn’t a big surprise, and I even made a public bet at a prominent climate policy conference that he would do so. This President always plays to his political base, which in turn feeds primarily on fear and misinformation rather than more nuanced rational analysis paired with hope. Quoting from dubious sources and ignoring competing analyses, the President claimed that abandoning Paris was the best way to protect American workers (“I love those coal workers”) from excessive regulation that we had been duped into agreeing to by countries like India and China.
I’ve taught renewable energy law and policy in China and I’ve seen India’s vulnerability to climate change first-hand—and neither country agreed to the Paris agreement as a means of tricking America into sending its jobs overseas. China has a serious domestic political and public health problem due to its severe air quality violations, and it also sees an enormous global business opportunity by shifting investment toward green/clean tech. Half of India’s population is dependent on agriculture (compared to 2% of Americans), and its agriculture will be hammered by climate disruption’s impact on the monsoon cycle, the snowline in the Himalaya, and probable increases in agricultural pests. Add heat-related deaths and sea level rise and you can readily see why both India and China recognize the need to address climate change. Further delays will hit the least advantaged the hardest.
Yet the U.S. will now join the ranks of only two other countries—Syria and Nicaragua—that have refused to endorse the non-regulatory goals of the Paris agreement. Paris was a breakthrough because it did and does not require any country to do anything it was not already willing to do: the targets for each country are what each country said it would do.
Meanwhile, the California Senate passed a bill yesterday (now in the Assembly) that would require California to meet 100% of its electricity demand from renewable sources by 2045. More importantly, it would push the state’s ambitious Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) goal up from 50% to 60% by 2030. And doing so will occur as the state seeks to reduce its total GHG emissions by 40% by 2030. California is doubling down on sophisticated and ambitious climate law and policy. Our commitment is built on the promise of continuing reductions in the cost of renewable generation coupled with the real-world experience of getting the state’s GHGs down to 1990 levels by 2020. And we are pursuing these goals with a strong commitment to environmental justice. California has always been a center for innovation and forward-looking thinkers, so it is no surprise that we see both the threat of climate change and the enormous opportunities that lie in solving the climate challenge.
The President, in contrast, is driving down the road by looking only in his rearview mirror. It is as if, a century ago in 1917, he has rejected the construction of new roads and airports because they would both threaten the existing network of railroads: looking in his rearview mirror, it is clear to him that railroads are the most efficient means of transportation and the new automobile and the airplane would both put some railroad workers out of work. Today he told us that he will cling to the past no matter what benefits would come from charting a course toward a necessary future.
But we are going to continue looking forward here in California—as they are in China, India, Europe, and every other country that remains part of the Paris agreement. Governor Brown will be going to China over the coming week to continue forging cooperation as China embarks on an ambitious cap-and-trade program. Collaboration will continue.
As Humphrey Bogart put it in Casablanca, “We’ll always have Paris.” Whether the President and his EPA Administrator like it or not, Paris will always be there for California and the world will continue to forge ahead to confront the climate crisis without the U.S. But America’s credibility—and its ability to get its partners in the world to work together with America to solve problems—now lies in tatters. So don’t expect anything to come of the President’s promise to renegotiate the Paris agreement on terms more favorable to the U.S. There is no reason for any of the Paris signatories to spend a single minute trying to renegotiate the agreement. To do so would simply feed further American unreliability.
California and China became the leaders of international climate change policy today.