President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the global climate change agreement marks a disappointing abdication of this nation’s leadership role in meeting the challenges of the very real changing climatic conditions that pose undeniable threats to food production, water availability, coastal communities and government stability in many locations around the world.
His decision comes despite clear evidence that our climate is changing. One only has to look at the Midwestern United States, where farmers have faced fields inundated by heavy rains this spring that have stalled crop planting, which hints to a potential outcome projected by research that in the decades ahead, warmer and wetter springs will be followed by hot, drier summers.
Across the world, landscapes have been marked by climate change-induced volatility in weather patterns that are producing heavy rains, wind, flooding, wildfires and drought, among other calamities. Farmers are also struggling to keep up with increasingly unpredictable water supplies, and finding their lands more likely to face attacks from weeds, diseases and pests, which reduce their yields and global crop supplies.
Many analysts argue that the actual U.S. exit from the Paris agreement is little more than symbolic, contending that the Trump administration has already begun backing away from U.S. policies and programs aimed at addressing climate change, not the least of which being the Clean Power Plan. (The announcement begins a process that will not fully disengage the United States from the agreement until November 2020.)
Still, even in the absence of federal leadership, state, city and corporate actors have chosen to take on the threats posed by our changing climate and have begun implementing measures that can help close the deficit in emissions reductions that will be left by an oblivious administration.
Through Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), 29 states are boosting the amount of energy they expect their utilities to generate from renewable resources and/or save through energy efficiency efforts (another eight states have set renewable energy and energy efficiency goals), in turn generating significant reductions in GHG emissions. Many of those states are boosting their RPS requirements, including Nevada, where lawmakers voted to increase their mandate to 80 percent by 2040. In the near-term, an interim RPS of 50 percent would be set for 2030, which is a broad increase over the 25-percent mark that the state originally set for 2025.
Elsewhere, Hawaii decided last year to push its RPS to 100 percent by 2045; Vermont hiked its RPS to 75 percent by 2032; New York and California both now have RPS targets of 50 percent by 2030; and many others are set to achieve close to 25 percent by 2025. In the not so distant future, Iowa is expected to generate 40 percent of its power from emission-free wind energy.
In recent years, cities have also taken a leadership position in addressing climate change through programs like the “Ready for 100” campaign, a grassroots effort with a 2018 goal of having commitments from 100 U.S. cities to move away from fossil fuels and pursue 100 percent clean energy by 2050. To date, 27 cities across the nation, including Miami, FL, San Diego, CA, Columbia, SC; and Salt Lake City, UT; have signed on to the campaign.
At the corporate level, a growing number of Fortune 500 companies are taking increasingly ambitious steps to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including procuring more renewable energy and reducing their energy usage through efficiency measures. A report recently issued by sustainability interests shows that 63 percent of Fortune 100 companies have set one or more clean energy targets. Furthermore, nearly half of Fortune 500 companies – 48 percent – have at least one climate or clean energy target, which is up five percent from a similar 2014 report. Accompanying the growth is rising ambition, with a significant number of companies setting 100 percent renewable energy goals and science-based GHG reduction targets.
It’s also important to take note of ground-level efforts to meet the challenges of a changing climate. Through initiatives like Solutions from the Land and the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance, agricultural and forestry producers are developing landscape-wide measures that offer better crop and land management practices that will seek to reduce each sector’s emissions and build adaptive resilience to the changes that are coming.
Let’s be clear: The world is on the path to an inevitable low-carbon, 21st-century economy. The Trump administration’s choice to step away from this nation’s leadership role in pursuing that path and the clean energy investments that come with it necessitates a call to action for policy makers at the state and local levels, as well as decision makers in the corporate world, to assume a larger leadership role and implement the programs and practices that are needed to fill the void.