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We Are Still In: States, Cities, and Businesses Renew Clean Energy Commitments in Wake of Paris Withdrawal

June 8, 2017

By Alli Gold Roberts - Ceres

With President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, it’s become even more clear how critical the leadership of investors and companies are in tackling climate change and pushing for clean energy. The immediate groundswell of response marks a significant inflection point in the climate narrative—an opportunity for equilibrium change.

For the first time, the dominant narrative in major U.S. media outlets around climate policy is that the business community overwhelmingly supports action. Sustainability nonprofit organization Ceres (2006 Skoll Awardee) has worked for nine years to mobilize leaders within that community, and the “We Are Still In” response has been remarkable. There’s safety in numbers, and the numbers are undeniable. Alli Gold Roberts, Senior Manager for State Policy at Ceres, took stock of the cross-sector climate leadership that stands behind the Paris Agreement.

Since President Trump announced that the United States is walking away from the Paris Climate Agreement, we’ve seen unprecedented collaboration and commitment by states, investors, and companies to continue to tackle climate change.

More than 1,100 investors and businesses, along with nine states, over 145 cities, and more than 220 colleges and universities have joined together this week to say, “we are still in” the Paris Agreement and committed to reducing carbon emissions.

“In the U.S., it is local and state governments, along with businesses, that are primarily responsible for the dramatic decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in recent years,” they wrote in an open letter to the international community and to parties of the Paris Agreement. “Actions by each group will multiply and accelerate in the years ahead, no matter what policies Washington may adopt.”

Shortly following the announcement, Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted:

Governors and mayors across the partisan divide were also quick to deepen their commitment to climate action. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a signatory of the letter, said the withdrawal announcement, “does not speak for the states and cities that are committed to fighting climate change and paving the way for a new energy economy,” called the action “dangerous”, and warned of its “devastating impact on our economy, environment, and health.”

In recent days, more than 13 governors, including republican governors Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Phil Scott of Vermont, reaffirmed their commitment to climate action by announcing their state’s participation in the bipartisan U.S. Climate Alliance.

Additionally, more than 240 Climate Mayors, including Republicans Elizabeth B. Kautz of Burnsville, Minnesota; Kevin Faulconer of San Diego, California; and Lee Brand of Fresno, California have said they would do their part to meet their cities’ carbon-reducing goals and those enshrined in the Paris Agreement.

“Our administration looks forward to continued, bipartisan collaboration with other states to protect the environment, grow the economy, and deliver a brighter future to the next generation,” said Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker in a statement.

States with diverse economies and energy portfolios including Virginia, Massachusetts, California, and Minnesota are a mere sampling of the communities embracing the jobs and economic development opportunities that come with clean energy investments. The growing list of investor and corporate voices is a clear signal that tackling climate change and investing in clean energy solutions transcends politics and just makes business sense.

As the Co-CEOs of Autodesk Amar Hanspal and Andrew Anagnost put it, “The Paris Agreement is good for the economy, would create jobs, and it would keep the U.S. competitive. We’re still in. Our employees are still in. Our customers are still in. We’re all still in.”

Through public-private partnerships between states, cities, investors, companies, colleges and universities, the U.S. can continue the momentum to hold warming to well below 2-degrees Celsius. These leaders recognize that in order to build a strong economic future, communities need to invest in clean energy solutions.

Companies make investment decisions based on localities where they can gain access to clean energy. States that want to capture these new opportunities need to be bullish on their renewable energy and energy efficiency offerings. It’s no surprise that many state lawmakers are already rushing to pass smart policies and communicate their continued commitment to reducing carbon emissions.

Just this week, Nevada’s state legislature passed new legislation to increase its renewable portfolio standard from 20 percent, where it is now, to 40 percent by 2030. The bill is now awaiting signature by Governor Sandoval. eBay, Levi Strauss Co., and Unilever were just some of the major employers in that state who called on lawmakers to support this legislation, stating, “clean energy investments can help businesses cut energy costs, avoid the volatility of fossil fuel prices, and stay competitive.”

In a time of policy uncertainty in Washington, states should work with investors and companies to build a low-carbon energy future. Many are already showing the way and other forward thinking local and state governments should continue to follow.

Alli Gold Roberts is a senior manager for state policy at Ceres. Ceres is a sustainability nonprofit organization working with the most influential investors and companies to build leadership and drive solutions throughout the economy.

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