The United States could still meet the goals established in the Paris agreement on climate change due to separate commitments from American cities, states and businesses, according to Howard Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago.
“You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube,” Learner said Monday on WBEZ’s Worldview. “The fact of the matter is states are stepping up, cities are stepping up and businesses are stepping up to buy renewable energy.”
Learner referenced Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s statement Thursday following President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the international climate pact. Emanuel said Chicago would reduce its share of carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.
“We’ll have the irony here of the United States not just complying with but probably blowing past what we’re required to do under the Paris climate agreement,” Learner said, “but we’ll lose our leadership and we’ll lose our influence because President Trump wants to pull us out of the agreement.”
Below are highlights from Learner’s conversation with Worldview host Jerome McDonnell.
Consequences of leaving the Paris climate agreement
Howard Learner: The Paris climate accord is moving forward. What we’re doing is President Trump is ceding control and responsibility and leadership to France, Germany, China, India and I suppose California.
By withdrawing our nation from cooperating with global allies on climate solutions, this won’t make America great again. What President Trump is doing is weakening America’s world leadership on climate solutions and ceding that leadership. … That cannot possibly be in our economic interest or our national security interest, let alone the environmental interest.
Coal jobs and the Paris accord
Learner: The U.S. is gaining jobs in the wind power sector, the solar energy sector and the energy efficiency sector. The U.S. is losing some jobs in the coal sector principally because natural gas prices are outcompeting coal prices. You take a state like Ohio – what’s happening there is there are fewer coal jobs and less coal being mined over time because there’s more natural gas being fracked and developed in Ohio. …
But that job loss in coal is greatly offset by the new economy – the clean energy economy of wind power, solar power and so forth. … We need to honor the coal jobs of the past. We need to capture and gain the clean energy jobs of the future.
Could the Paris accord be better off without the U.S.?
Learner: It can’t possibly make it a better agreement by having the world’s most significant country – the United States along with China – for the United States to not be participating. What it means is it’s going to get shaped more without us.
But the fact is there’s already an agreement. The agreement has already been adopted by close to 200 nations. What America is supposed to do under the agreement is already pretty clear, and we’re going to be able to do that. So I think you always get a better result, at least from the American perspective, if the United States is at the table and is actively participating with 200 other nations, rather than we’re going it alone and the other nations are moving forward.
The big breakthrough at Paris compared to Kyoto was that the United States and China got together on the same page. And when the U.S. and China got together, a lot of other developing nations came on board, and we now have global action to deal with a global problem.
Let’s keep in mind whether greenhouse gases come from a car or a power plant in Indiana, Indonesia or India doesn’t make any difference in terms of impact on the atmosphere and the pace of climate change. This is a global problem – the science is sound and well-demonstrated – it’s a global problem that needs a global solution. The United States pulling out of the Paris agreement pulls back from global solutions. We need to be a part of it.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Click the “play” button above to hear the entire segment.