An Ideas-Based Online Magazine of the Global Network for Advanced Management

After COP21: The Impact of the United States

Two years ago, representatives of more than 190 countries signed the Paris Climate Accord at COP21. Global Network Perspectives asked experts across the network about the policies that their countries are implementing in order to meet the commitments made in the agreement—and the challenges that remain.

Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, making it the lone dissenter in the world. By itself, this is a tragic and ironic story in which the myopic view of a minority in power creates economic, social and environmental destruction for both themselves and all of us around them. The “full” story, however, depends on whether you are an optimist or pessimist.

Let us start with the optimist’s view. In the vacuum created by the decision, states, cities, and businesses stepped in to express commitments to mitigating climate emissions. States, led by California, have publicized aggressive greenhouse gas emissions targets and have recently reported that they are on track to meet those targets. Large cities such as New York have moved on efforts to both curb emissions as well as study and improve resilience of their cities in the face of impending climate impacts such as severe weather, disease migration, drought, rising sea levels and climate refugee influx. Even U.S. businesses, in a variety of statements issued to the White House including one from 79 CEOs, have iterated a commitment to the Paris Accord for the good of their companies and the globe. The result has been significant investment in more climate resilient infrastructure development, meaningful improvement in energy efficiency and greater awareness of the interaction of social and economic development in the face of climate risks.

And yet, the pessimist will point out that the devil is in the details. For example, of the 100 largest greenhouse gas emitting companies globally, none signed that letter to the White House. And while 33 states have reduced greenhouse gas emissions since the year 2000, only 14 have publicly voiced support for the Paris accord, leaving the majority of states pursuing an incremental approach or none at all. Finally, the lack of federal support for the accord has consequences. While climate policy and regulation can even the playing field and move companies to innovate and compete in the new energy economy, a lack of regulation slows the entry of companies, technologies, efficiencies, and solutions into the market. Slowing the pace of change has two effects: removing U.S. business from the opportunities presented by a global energy transition and delaying our overall actions. In the case of climate change, delay translates into more economic damage and greater social upheaval.