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4 reasons why the U.S. leaving Paris climate deal might not be the end of the world

With the federal government taking a step back in the climate fight, states and cities are coming to the fore.
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It's been a few days since President Donald Trump's announced the U.S. would be withdrawing from the landmark Paris climate accord so it could renegotiate the terms of America's involvement.

The news was met with horror from environmentalists as the U.S. starts the process of becoming just the third country not sign up to the global agreement to limit temperature increases by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But for those worried about the U.S.'s impending withdrawal and other steps taken by the president since being in office to strip back environmental regulations, there are a few reasons to hope the decision won't be as devastating as the initial hysteria suggested.

We're moving to cleaner energy anyway

The U.S. contributes around 15 percent to global carbon emissions, and about 30 percent of U.S. emissions come from energy generation, according to the EPA.

But despite Trump's support of the coal industry, American energy companies have been shifting away from coal – one of the most polluting fossil fuels – in favor of cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas, as seen in this report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

At the same time, utilities are stepping up their investment in renewable energy, and not just because former President Barack Obama mandated it with his Clean Power Plan (which Trump has started rolling back), but because in the long-term it'll be a more efficient, cheaper way of creating electricity.

TechCrunch reports on how economics is driving the push to renewable as energy companies look beyond what is cheapest over the next few years, instead focusing on conditions in a decade or two. Meanwhile, innovation within the renewable industry is driving costs down further.

Xcel Energy has told GoMN on several occasions it'll be sticking to its plans to invest heavily in wind and solar power, as well as replacing two units of its Sherco coal plant with a new natural gas plant. It would pursue this irrespective of any decision to scrap the Clean Power Plan, which was seen as a major step to the U.S. achieving its Paris goal of reducing emissions 28 percent by 2025.

The BBC reports emissions will continue to fall during Trump's initial four-year tenure. However, emissions will probably fall half as fast as it would have under the Obama administration, the news agency added.

Major businesses aren't happy

Numerous major businesses spoke out in support of the U.S. staying in the Paris Agreement. In Minnesota alone, this included General Mills, Cargill, Target and Best Buy who joined a national coalition of major firms that backed the climate deal, the Star Tribune reported.

Nationally, major tech influencers including Apple, Facebook, Tesla and Google expressed their unhappiness with the decision, and oil companies including Shell, Conoco and Exxon also backed staying in.

NPR reports even coal companies have lobbied to stay in the Paris Agreement so it has a seat at the negotiating table going forward.

Trump's decision removes voluntary U.S. targets to reduce emissions, which were set by Obama.

And while this could see some companies take advantage of more lenient environmental restrictions under his tenure, the fact that many of America's biggest companies, which have a significant influence on the U.S. economy, are serious about climate change could have a positive environmental impact going forward.

It's galvanizing cities and states

As we say above, the Paris Agreement was a series of voluntary commitments to reducing emissions, but now that the U.S. is no longer pursuing these emissions targets at the federal level, it doesn't stop governments from doing so at the state and local level.

In the wake of Trump's decision, the states of California, Washington and New York formed a coalition committed to upholding the Paris accord, which has since been joined by 10 more states (including Minnesota). Between them, more than 30 percent of U.S. carbon emissions come from these states.

In Minnesota, although he said the decision to withdraw was "damaging," Gov. Mark Dayton said his state would continue to pursue its aggressive strategy to reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions.

A similar coalition has been springing up at city-level as well, with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges among the mayors of 82 cities that as of Friday had pledged to uphold the spirit of the Paris Agreement.

The White House is actively encouraging this, with spokesman Sean Spicer saying on Friday, according to the Mail Online: "We believe in states' rights and so, if a locality, municipality or a state wants to enact a policy that their voters, or their citizens believe in, then that's what they should do."

In his speech, Trump said he'll look to ensure "America remains the world’s leader on environmental issues" and he might not be wrong, at least if the states and cities have anything to do with it.

People are talking about climate

In the U.S., the majority of citizens believe in climate change and approve of environment regulations like, say, the restriction of CO2 emissions from coal plants, as the New York Times reports.

But in large swathes of the U.S. – namely the Midwest and the South – climate change isn't something people really discuss. It's a much bigger topic in the West, where the impact of changing climate is more pronounced.

The potential for catastrophe caused by rising temperatures is a conversation the world needs to be having and the U.S.'s withdrawal is possibly the most talked about the Paris Agreement has been since it was first signed in late 2015.

At the global level, the decision has prompted a reaffirmation to work towards reducing emissions from other major nations – including world's biggest polluter, China, and the 28 member states of the world's biggest trading bloc, the European Union.

If climate change becomes a topic more important to citizens around the world, then there's a greater chance that those in positions of power to influence global climate policy will take a greater interest in these concerns.

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