Responding to President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, WRI Executive Vice President Manish Bapna and a panel of international experts offered guidance to concerned Congress members on new ways for the United States to move forward on climate action.
On Tuesday, Bapna and three other speakers participated in a public roundtable on climate policy convened by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Despite the difficulty of advancing climate solutions in today’s political atmosphere, Johnson said she was “not interested in giving up.”
Bapna debunked Trump’s misleading statements on climate economics, pointed to continued momentum for the Paris Agreement and called on Congress to give clear policy signals to the private sector.
Debunking Trump on the Economics of the Paris Agreement
“Trump continues to perpetuate the old-fashioned view that one has to choose between economic growth and climate action. But that’s a false choice,” Bapna said. “His approach is like trying to bring back the horse and buggy when we know electric vehicles are the future.”
Trump claimed the Paris Agreement would cost the United States trillions of dollars and millions of jobs. WRI has shown why these numbers are wrong: they assume the United States would choose the most expensive path to achieve its emissions targets and that the American private sector would stop innovating.
In reality, “smart climate policy can lead to more technology, more jobs, more growth,” Bapna said, drawing on research from the New Climate Economy.
The low-carbon economy is arriving much faster than many imagined, notably in the dramatic drop in solar prices. In a telling example, the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum has decided to switch to solar energy to save money.
Panelist Christiana Figueres, former head of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, agreed: “Decarbonization of the global economy is no longer in the realm of politics. We are now in the realm of market forces.”
U.S. Cities, States and Businesses Are Still In on Paris
“The irony of President Trump’s decision on Paris is that we’re seeing a much greater outpouring of support for the climate agreement in the U.S. than ever before,” Bapna said.
More than 300 U.S. cities have pledged to adopt the Paris commitments, including the Democratic mayors of New York and Los Angeles and the Republican mayors of Miami and San Diego. Twenty-two states, representing half of the U.S. population and 40 percent of its carbon emissions, have expressed their support. And more than 1,500 companies have joined the We Are Still In Coalition, including Walmart, Microsoft and Nike.
This support is encouraging, but is no cause for complacency. Bapna reminded the committee that “while subnationals are stepping up, it won’t be enough without federal action.”
The Rest of the World Reaffirms Commitment
Figueres, who was instrumental in sealing the deal in December 2015, told the gathering that “the Paris Agreement is alive and well.” One hundred ninety-four countries besides the United States signed the agreement, and the vast majority have already come out since Trump’s announcement to say they will continue their efforts. David O’Sullivan, EU Ambassador to the United States, told the committee that Europe is still “absolutely committed” to the agreement. When asked whether it could be renegotiated, Figueres was unequivocal: “There is no space for another agreement.”
China and India, the world’s first and third largest emitters respectively, are acting quickly. India is aggressively working to grow its solar capacity from less that 3 gigawatts in 2015 to 100 GW in 2022. For comparison, the United States currently has 45 GW of solar capacity. China has become the world’s largest investor in renewable energy, and its coal consumption has been falling since 2013.
Reaching Across the Aisle
When asked what Congress should do to support climate action in today’s political atmosphere, Bapna suggested that “the idea of a carbon tax deserves a strong hearing.” He advised Congress to bring together CEOs with Democratic and Republican thought leaders and representatives to “create a vibrant, serious conversation about a clear, long-term market signal for a low-carbon future.”
In so doing, he pointed to the Climate Leadership Council’s new proposal for a carbon dividend, which was announced on the same day as the panel. The plan is for a $40 a ton carbon tax that would rise over time, and has support from businesses like General Motors, PepsiCo, and Exxon, and the secretaries of State under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Johnathan Elkin, former assistant secretary for international affairs at the Energy Department, encouraged Congress to fight for clean energy research and development, because “early-stage innovation is not routinely supported across our private sector.” Elkin made the case that “government funding should not be thought of as a matter of altruism,” because the innovation it unleashes will drive the economy.
This week’s roundtable was unusual in that it was hosted by Democrats, the minority party in the House. They wanted to hear from experts on how to advance climate action, but the majority Republicans, who control official hearings, have been unwilling to schedule time for this topic.
The participants in the roundtable urged Congress and the approximately 50 members of the public in the audience to do everything in their power to move the needle on climate change, including reaching across party lines. “What might seem inconceivable in the U.S. will soon seem inevitable,” said Bapna. “We are not backing down and we hope you won’t either.”
To read Bapna’s full opening remarks from the Roundtable, click here.