Paris Agreement passes crucial global and local test

Photo by Stephen Spillman

Gatherings of world leaders, like the Group of 20 (or G20) meeting last week in Hamburg, Germany, often can seem far away from what matters on Main Street (or along Interstate-10 in San Antonio): jobs, safe communities and hope for the future. But sometimes, these global events are important both for the world and for our priorities at home. When it comes to facing the growing risks of climate change and building a modern, clean economy, both local and global matter.

Last week’s G20 summit was a gut-check moment for the world. Climate disruption is already hitting communities across the United States and the world, but the landmark global agreement recently signed by nearly every nation on Earth was in trouble. President Trump announced in June that he would pull the U.S. out of the deal.

As the world’s largest economies gathered last week, many wondered: Would other nations follow? Would the historic Paris Climate Change Agreement unravel?

They didn’t, and it won’t. Despite pressure from the new administration, the other G20 leaders declared the historic climate agreement ‘irreversible’ and offered a concrete plan to implement it. The world is moving ahead.

This is important because the only way to lessen the worst impacts of climate change for any city is through global cooperation. Climate pollution in Hamburg impacts Houston and vice versa. And these impacts are already hitting home. For example, in San Antonio, the number of high-heat days have markedly increased, affecting health, jobs and our overall quality of life.

But if the new administration makes good on its call to pull out of the Paris deal, what does that mean for American efforts to protect our communities from climate disruption and build a resilient economy?

Support from Washington has been a key ingredient in most successful global endeavors. But now, a new form of American leadership is emerging. Just hours after the president’s announcement to withdraw, local leaders advanced. The result: a bi-partisan group of 12 governors launched the U.S. Climate Alliance, pledging to support the Paris Agreement. At the same time, over 300 U.S. mayors came together under the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda to “adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement.”

The largest and broadest example of this new leadership is We Are Still In, which unites a deep cross-section of the real American economy. Including more than 2,000 mayors, governors, university presidents and CEOs, the coalition represents 125 million American citizens and $6.2 trillion in GDP — or roughly one third of the entire U.S. economy.

San Antonio joined both the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda and We Are Still In, not for lofty foreign policy reasons, but because responding to climate change is good for the health of our people and our local economy. San Antonio is walking the walk, committing to replace its diesel bus fleet — and the air pollution that comes with it — with compressed natural gas buses, while implementing an ambitious overall plan to foster smart, sustainable economic growth.

Good for San Antonio, these steps also support the greater good. As the seventh-largest city in America, San Antonio has a key role to play in ensuring the United States still meets its commitments under the Paris Agreement while remaining a leader in the global clean energy revolution.

The stakes are high. The U.S. new energy economy already employs 3.3 million people — more than all fossil-fuel jobs combined. The solar industry’s growth now outpaces the rest of the economy, accounting for 1 in 50 new U.S. jobs. Nowhere is this new economy booming more than in Texas. According to a recent World Resources Institute study, Texas is ranked first in America in wind-energy jobs, second in energy-efficiency jobs and fourth in solar-energy jobs.

With strong American industries to serve the demand, global bull markets for renewable energy are good for Texas and America. Moving the world full steam ahead on a modern, clean energy economy under the Paris Agreement is an important market signal. But with politics crowding out common sense in Washington, how can we maintain U.S. competitiveness in these industries?

Luckily, unlike in many countries where levers of change are held by the national government, we rely on a mix of state, local and federal policies, plus a heavy dose of private-sector innovation to drive the economy. The clean-energy transition is no exception. Choices made by governors, mayors, CEOs and college presidents matter. And the world knows it.

So while at first it seemed the lack of U.S. federal support could threaten global solidarity on climate change, the opposite happened. G20 leaders sent a clear message: The rest of the world is still in. America’s cities, states, universities, businesses and investors have matched the ambition of global leaders, making clear they are still in, too.

So the historic Paris Agreement has passed its first big test, and remains a tool to drive more cooperation and action on one of our biggest local and global challenges. This is good news, from San Antonio to Singapore and everywhere in between.

Ron Nirenberg

Mayor of San Antonio

Lou Leonard

SVP for climate and energy, World Wildlife Fund

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