Climate goals: In a Trump presidency, could states keep business on track?

With an unforeseeable future for US climate policy under a Trump administration, local and state governments, the private sector, and individuals can still make a difference in the fight against climate change.

Richard Vogel/AP
California Gov. Jerry Brown, seated, signs legislation that sets a new goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 on Sept. 8, 2016, in Los Angeles. Governor Brown said Thursday that California will remain committed to its emissions goals despite a potential change in climate policy by a Trump administration.

By signing the Paris Climate Agreement, the United States and 194 other countries have made significant commitments to mitigate the effects of climate change. 

But President-elect Donald Trump has said he will pull the US out of the Paris Agreement, which could limit the influence the agreements have in other ratified countries, cancel the Clean Power Plan, and cut funding to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. He has hinted at making climate-science denier Myron Ebell the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Despite a scaling back of federal government leadership on climate change, individuals across local and state governments and in the private sector can still make a difference in the effort to reduce greenhouse gases.

“In a perfect world, all forms of decisionmaking would be aligned to solve this gigantic problem” of climate change, Jonathan Foley, the executive director of the California Academy of Sciences, told The Christian Science Monitor earlier this week. “We don’t live in that world, so if just one lever of decisionmaking, though perhaps the biggest, starts to be undermined for climate change, the others will have to work a little harder, I guess.”

But some state and local governments have already established climate policies that will continue to govern the private sector in their jurisdictions, despite potential policy changes on the federal level.

For example, California and New York were both able to work across bipartisan governments to put cap-and-trade programs in place, which put a limit on emissions and then enable companies to buy and trade pollution allowances. California Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed this fall one of the nation's toughest climate change bills, has made a point of saying the state will continue its climate change mitigation policies despite the results of Tuesday’s election.

“[A]s Californians, we will also stay true to our basic principles,” Governor Brown told the Associated Press on Thursday. “We will protect the precious rights of our people and continue to confront the existential threat of our time – devastating climate change.”

However, the private sector will also have a role to play, particularly considering that corporate awareness of the risk climate change poses to profits has risen dramatically in recent years, as International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) boss Dirk Forrister told Ecosystem Marketplace on Wednesday.

Already much of the $100 billion per year allocated to fighting climate change under the Paris Agreement will depend on financing from the private sector.

“Most of that money is not from governments,” Kevin Fay, a lawyer specializing in environmental and energy issues, told Ecosystem Marketplace. “It’s from the private sector and other sources.”

And if state governments cannot motive business to take up environmentally sustainable practices, then maybe public opinion will. Already the environmental movement, which was previously often seen as a cause for white and wealthy liberals, has attracted a wider base as it becomes clear that climate change disproportionately affects marginalized groups.

“The public is way ahead of where the politicians are,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, in a press call on Wednesday. “We’re seeing more and more examples of individual efforts people can take, and that’s only going to grow and grow.”

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