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Leon Kaye headshot

Trump's Paris Agreement Exit Cedes Climate Leadership to Private Sector and Local Gov’t

By Leon Kaye

The reaction to the news that the Trump White House would pull out of the 2015 COP21 climate agreement was swift. Environmental groups, of course, were quick to respond.

“The Paris climate accord is a triumph of American leadership. It’s about doing what’s best for our people at home - spurring clean energy innovation and creating millions of good-paying jobs,” said Rhea Suh, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Trump would be walking away from that American victory, abandoning U.S. climate and clean energy leadership and breaking our promise to the rest of the world.”

Whether the U.S. actually stays or remains in the Paris Agreement is still not clear. What has been obvious is that even if the U.S. remains a signatory to the global climate deal, it would be in ink only. The changes that the Trump Administration has made to environmental policies make it impossible for the U.S. to meet its commitment. In the view of many supporters of the Paris Agreement, the U.S. has joined fine company along with Syria and Nicaragua, which did not sign the accord – although the truth is those nations’ lack of participation is far more nuanced.

What has raised alarm amongst many leaders here in the U.S. and abroad is that backing away from COP21 sends a signal: that the U.S. will lag when it comes to climate change leadership.

But that sentiment may not be necessarily true. After all, the U.S. could still lead, whether or not the current White House changes course. It is just that the private sector will have to step up. And recent evidence suggests it already has. Furthermore, the actions of local leaders in towns and cities, where 80 percent of Americans live, can fill the gaps left by the Trump Administration’s abandonment of the Paris Agreement.

Many U.S. business leaders have already made it clear that they want to stay in the accord, and that list includes CEOs of companies as diverse as 3M, Bank of America and Disney. And one CEO who has been outspoken about climate action, Elon Musk of Tesla, has reportedly said he will quit serving on any of the Trump Administration’s advisory councils if the U.S. walks away from the COP21 deal.


Words, however, need to be backed with action, and the evidence suggests the private sector will continue to make progress on climate change mitigation. One local leader who is believes the private sector will not back down from climate action commitments is Jim Brainard, the popular GOP mayor of Carmel, Indiana, a town of 90,000 north of Indianapolis.

Brainard has been elected and easily re-elected as Carmel’s mayor, and has not been shy about ducking party orthodoxy. During an interview by telephone with TriplePundit, his reaction to Trump’s anticipated announcement was one of dismay, yet guarded optimism. “It’s disappointing,” he said, “as even though the market is going to continue to move us along, I have several concerns.”

To that end, Brainard gave a spirited defense of the Paris Accord. “If the president wants to be a leader of a great country - and we all agree that we want the U.S. to be great - if we’re going to be great, we have to keep our word,” he said.

Brainard continued to explain that great countries have clean air, provide clean drinking water, and are willing lead the world when there is a problem. Plus, Brainard insisted, great countries need to provide citizens good jobs, and green building and renewables are offering more opportunities. “And, a great country isn’t going to be dependent on fossil fuels. In the event of any conflict or war, it is important that we are more resilient.”

And that is where the private sector and municipalities can step in as the federal government steps back.

After all, explained Brainard, companies can save money by striving to be more sustainable and staying focused on climate goals. One example Brainard offered is Walmart, which has worked on packaging redesign and plastics recycling, which reduces both waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

Furthermore, the private sector can work with local leaders to find ways to reduce emissions and build the “smart cities” of the future. Brainard pointed out solar projects that are ongoing in Carmel, including installations made possible by the city’s “rainy day” fund. “We’re reducing the cost of our electricity, which comes from coal, and we’re getting a 10 percent annualized return on the investment,” said Brainard.

Small examples like Carmel’s investment in solar, insisted Brainard, together will make big differences in the long run. “Our system of capitalism is going to encourage companies to conserve because it saves money,” he continued, “and as a result, this system of capitalism is going to take advantage of the demand for green building solutions and renewable energy projects, because companies can make money doing it.”

In the end, market forces will dictate the direction to which companies will move, and the evidence suggests additional low carbon technology investments will be on the horizon.

“Government is powerless in preventing the progress that companies and people demand, so in the case of renewable energy, and I don’t see any reason why this is going to stop,” said Brainard, “and the rest of the world wants these products whether or not we stay in or out of the Paris accords.”

Image credit: Carmel City Center/Wiki Commons

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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