Despite opposition from dozens of CEOs, the majority of the Americans and nearly every country on Earth, President Trump announced last week that the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. The decision is a blow to global efforts to halt climate change, but it won’t stop the growth of clean energy.
The cost of renewables is rapidly declining, and market forces will ensure that clean energy continues to displace fossil fuels. Wind and solar are now the cheapest source of energy in many parts of the country. Last year, they accounted for two-thirds of new U.S. generating capacity.
This momentum will continue even without backing from Washington. Many clean energy technologies are “past the tipping point and will keep eating fossil market share in any case,” Michael Liebreich, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, tweeted following the Paris announcement.
The Trump administration is trying to rig the game for coal, but their efforts will likely prove futile. Coal is no longer the bedrock of U.S. power generation. From West Virginia to Wyoming, large utilities are relying more on natural gas and renewables and ceasing construction of new coal plants. Electric vehicles are also making inroads. According to research by Bloomberg, electric vehicles will be cheaper than gas-powered cars in the U.S. and Europe by 2025.
Cities and states will continue to support clean energy even as Trump eliminates environmental protections and guts funding for research. A coalition of mayors, governors, universities and businesses is pledging to meet the U.S. emissions targets in spite of Paris withdrawal.
Just this week, the Nevada legislature signed a bill raising the state’s renewable energy target to 40 percent by 2030 — one of the highest in the nation. In North Carolina, lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill to spur the growth of solar power, making it yet another red state pushing clean energy.
Then there’s the matter of time. No matter what, the requisite four-year waiting period means that pullout from the agreement won’t be completed until November 4th, 2020 — one day after the next presidential election. If a new president were to be elected, he or she could potentially rejoin the agreement in as little as 30 days after taking office. Clean energy will continue to grow over Trump’s first term, propelled by falling costs and state-level policies.
However, while clean energy will forge ahead, Trump’s climate policies could stymie the rate of growth. To avert dangerous climate change, the United States will need to shut down existing coal- and gas-fired power plants before the end of their operating lives. That is unlikely to happen in the absence of meaningful federal policy.
Trump’s Paris pullout could also have ramifications for U.S. clean energy companies looking to sell their goods overseas. Foreign governments could penalize American firms in retaliation for Trump’s decision.
“When you withdraw from a treaty, you do not do it in a vacuum,” University of Virginia economist William Shobe recently said in an interview. “The other countries in the treaty now have all sorts of options as to how they respond and what economic penalties they might consider.”