President Donald Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate accord, announced Thursday, was a massive setback to the fight against climate change in the US. However, the reaction among governors, mayors, and perhaps most importantly, the private sector, goes to show it may be too late for Trump’s administration to effectively roll back solutions to address climate change. With broad support among larger cities, populous states, and CEOs, the Paris agreement enjoys support where it counts the most.
Immediately following the announcement, 187 US mayors released a joint statement, vowing to honor and uphold the goals of the Paris accord.
“We will intensify efforts to meet each of our cities’ current climate goals, push for new action to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, and work together to create a 21st century clean energy economy,” said the statement.
Among the signatories of the statement were the mayors of the largest and most influential cities in America, including Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, Bill de Blasio of New York City, Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, and Jim Kenney of Philadelphia. The long list of signatories also included mayors of major cities throughout the country, including in many states that voted for Trump in the November election, such as Kasim Reed of Atlanta, Georgia, Sylvester Turner of Houston, Texas, and John Hamilton of Birmingham Alabama.
The mayors promised to increase renewable energy investments, create demand for electric cars, and take measures to reduce their cities’ greenhouse gas emissions. Several city halls in these cities were decorated with green lights, as a declaration of support of the Paris accord, and environmental justice in general.
On a state level, the United States Climate Alliance was formed by the governors of New York, California, and Washington, to bring together states planning to uphold their end of the Paris agreement and those “taking aggressive action on climate change,” according to a statement.
“This administration is abdicating its leadership and taking a backseat to other countries in the global fight against climate change,” said Governor Cuomo of New York.
Jerry Brown, governor of California, said in a statement that “California will resist this misguided and insane course of action.”
As of a 2015 population estimate, over 12 percent of the population of the US lived California, and another 6 percent lives in a New York state. With an additional 2.2 percent living in Washington, the Climate Alliance is now representing about one fifth of the population of the United States.
Aside from the Climate Alliance, a number of governors have proclaimed their support for the Paris accord, including Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, Kate Brown of Oregon, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, and Dannel P. Malloy, of Connecticut, along with several others.
“While the President’s actions are a shameful rebuke to the work needed to protect our planet for our children and grandchildren, states have been and will continue to step up,” according to Governor Jay Inslee of Washington.
Private sector leaders offered similarly strong statements, after many of them spent months urging the president to uphold the agreement. Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric hinted at a future in which private industry leads the fight against climate change as the federal government refuses to do so.
“Disappointed with today’s decision on the Paris Agreement,” he said Thursday on Twitter. “Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government.”
Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced he would quit Trump’s business advisory councils in the wake of the Paris decision. “Am departing presidential councils. Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world,” he said on Twitter.
Similar statements were made by Disney CEO Bob Iger, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Microsoft president Brad Smith, and even Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, in his first ever Tweet. “Today’s decision is a setback for the environment and for the U.S.’s leadership position in the world,” said Blankfein.
Climate change action in the private sector goes beyond public statements. The solar power industry employed 375,000 workers in 2016, twice as many as the coal industry. Wind and solar accounted for over half of the new power capacity added to US grids in the last two years, thanks to low natural gas prices forcing the closing of coal plants, and the advent of much cheaper solar and wind power. Renewable energy is becoming economically competitive.
This broad support for the Paris agreement could mean it’s too late to reverse action against climate change with changes in federal policy alone. Perhaps too much progress, and too large of a shift in public opinion, has already occurred. In March, a Gallup poll showed that an all-time high of 62 percent of Americans believe the effects of global warming are already occurring. Forty-five percent of Americans reported worrying “a great deal” about global warming. It could be that much of the private sector, and many larger cities and states, will move towards compliance with the agreement, and a reduction of carbon emissions in general, regardless of Trump’s decision.