I know I was not alone in feeling dismay and anger as I watched US president Trump announce that the USA would be withdrawing from the Paris Agreement of 2015 (the historic moment when 195 countries came together to commit to limiting average global temperature rises to well within 2 degrees of the pre-industrial average). And yet his decision, unwelcome and short-sighted as I believe it was, was not a surprise, and may yet serve to galvanise the rest of the world to even greater action.
What is most telling is the growing chorus of renewed support for the Paris Agreement from around the world and from across America. The EU and China will fill the leadership vacuum left by the USA, which now has a President profoundly out of step with a growing number of major US businesses, mayors and state governors. US leadership on this issue is absolutely not limited to the Federal Government. Indeed, a new coalition of American cities, states and companies is already preparing to submit a plan to the United Nations pledging to meet (and potentially even surpass) America’s existing targets under the Paris agreement.
So a quick reality check: America, albeit the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, accounts for around 15% of the world’s total. Compare that to the 37% of China, the EU and India, all of whom are re-doubling their commitments in response to the US decision. Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, the exit process will take several years in any case, right up to the next Presidential elections in late 2020. And for all the talk of re-opening economically obsolete coal mines in the USA, it is hard to see how the investment community would choose, within the constraints of a four year Presidential term, to back this option when gas and renewables are already so much cheaper. There are already twice as many people in the US employed in the solar industry than in coal.
The momentum towards a low-carbon future is accelerating all the time, for the simple reason that the economics add up. Investment, job creation, air quality, social cohesion and smart growth all point away from fossil fuels and towards renewables, resource efficiency and a restorative, two degree world. Digital disruption and innovation will be great enablers in this process.
At the end of April this year and to mark the 10th anniversary of the Prince of Wales’ Mayday campaign, BITC launched a new call to action to all its members to contribute to that restorative, two degree world. Today the plan is unchanged. As Sir Ian Cheshire, Chairman of BITC’s Environment Leadership Team, said recently, “If you are not preparing to win in the new low carbon economy of tomorrow, I can guarantee you will lose.” BITC is fully focused on creating long term value, with jobs, wellbeing and resource efficiency at the heart of a smart, circular, de-carbonised economy of the future. We will continue to support, engage, connect and inspire our members and the wider business community on this journey. Businesses large and small are increasingly opening up a new world of low carbon opportunity. So the world moves on – with or without America.
Stephen Farrant is BITC's Director of Environment and Market Solutions