Catalyst Summer 2017
First Principles

Keeping Alive the Goals and Spirit of the Paris Climate Agreement


Photos: Genji Arakaki/Creative Commons (Flickr)

By Ken Kimmell

UCS President Ken Kimmell

President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord marked a new low, even for this administration. The president’s announcement at the White House Rose Garden, before a virtual who’s who of fossil fuel–backed climate deniers, was a torrent of misinformation and outright falsehoods.

Particularly galling to me was the way President Trump misrepresented the world’s response to the signing of the accord, saying, “The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement—they went wild; they were so happy—for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage.”

As someone who was there in Paris and joined in the cheering, I know that nothing could be further from the truth. After decades of false starts, participants in the Paris accord—and millions of people around the world—cheered the unprecedented agreement as a triumph of multilateral diplomacy. They cheered the real hope the accord offered that the nations of the world could finally come to grips with the climate change crisis and increase the chances of leaving a habitable planet to our children and grandchildren. As I wrote at the time upon my return from Paris in December 2015, if the accord made good on that promise, we could truly claim to have “changed the course of history and demonstrated, for the first time ever, the power of an entire world united in a common cause.”

Rogue Nation

Now, with President Trump’s woefully misguided move, the United States joins only Nicaragua and Syria as a rogue nation not party to this agreement. The evidence is already mounting that pulling out of the Paris accord will diminish the standing of the United States in world affairs and have major repercussions on our nation’s ability to collaborate with other nations on many critical issues including trade and terrorism.

The move is also deeply unpopular at home. Fully 7 in 10 Americans support US participation in the Paris Agreement, including some 57 percent of Republican voters according to one recent poll. Another poll shows that Trump supporters overwhelmingly support renewable energy, with 84 percent supporting the further expansion of solar power in the United States.

Equally important and contrary to what President Trump says, the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement does nothing to boost the economy or create US jobs. The fact is, more than 3 million people work in clean energy in America, far more than the approximately 65,000 coal miners President Trump claims (falsely) will benefit from his action. The solar and wind industries are creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the US economy, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists wind energy technician as the fastest-growing job in America through 2024, with an average salary in 2016 of $52,000 per year.

Celebrating the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement in December 2015.

Then-UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon (center) and other dignitaries celebrate the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement in December 2015.
Photo: IISD/Kiara Worth

“We Are Still In”

There is an unintended silver lining to President Trump’s reckless decision. In reaction, an extraordinary and growing number of governors, mayors, businesses, investors, and universities from across the country, representing the broadest cross section of the American economy, have declared that they will continue their efforts to meet carbon reduction goals and help ensure the United States remains a global leader in reducing carbon emissions. So far, the “We Are Still In” coalition includes leaders from 125 cities, nine states, 902 businesses and investors, and 183 colleges and universities. Participating cities and states alone represent 120 million Americans and contribute $6.2 trillion to the US economy.

UCS is working closely with many of these signatories. We are launching “swing for the fences” initiatives to show states the path toward greater ambition on climate, such as a regional cap-and-trade program for transportation emissions in the Northeast, and the modernization of our aging electricity grids to unleash the full potential of renewable energy. These and other efforts build off the renewable energy revolution that is now taking hold in all parts of the country, as we documented in our recent Clean Energy Momentum report.

President Trump may be abdicating a leadership role for the United States on action to address the urgent issue of climate change, but we’re forging ahead nonetheless as the clean energy revolution continues. Even the president’s wrecking ball can’t demolish that.

Ken Kimmell Photo: Richard Howard