A year of remarkable progress in the spirit of Paris

It’s been a year since President Trump announced his intention to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement, and far from halting U.S. climate action, there’s plenty of evidence that businesses, states and cities are pushing even harder.

The rapid rise of We are Still In and America’s Pledge, efforts to grow and quantify climate action in the wake of the announcement, is well documented. But the success we’re seeing has exceeded anyone’s expectations.

Power sector emissions continue to fall, while the nation’s clean energy economy is booming. In the past year, more than half the capacity from utility-scale generation installed in 2017 came from renewables. Now a report from former Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz shows the energy efficiency field is growing at twice the national average, and the solar industry employs more than twice as many people as coal.

We’ve even seen bipartisan progress in Washington. A budget deal passed this year includes the expansion of a key tax credit for carbon capture technology, ensuring continued investment in a key component for decarbonizing our economy. The budget legislation also included key incentives for renewables, advanced zero-emitting nuclear, and included a more than $1.5 billion increase in scientific and energy research funding.

Expanding the tax credit was the culmination of years of work by the Carbon Capture Coalition, co-convened by C2ES and the Great Plains Institute. This broad coalition of business, labor, and environmental groups works to accelerate commercial deployment of carbon capture technologies. Now the coalition is working with senators on a plan for more research into the good use of carbon dioxide once it’s captured.

On the state level, leaders are working to deliver zero-carbon energy. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy set an example for other states to follow when he signed legislation committing New Jersey to obtaining 50 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2050. The legislative package also helps to preserve the state’s nuclear plants with financial credit for the carbon-free energy they produce, about 40 percent of the state’s electricity. That’s in line with recommendations from our latest report, Solutions for Maintaining the Existing Nuclear Fleet. Together, these actions have placed New Jersey on a path to get up to 90 percent of its electricity from zero-emitting sources by encouraging renewable energy and nuclear power to cooperate.

In Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee continues to push for a price on carbon, and in Alaska, a key energy-producing state where climate impacts are hitting hardest, officials are working on the state’s first climate action plan.

From the business sector, we’ve seen dozens of examples of concrete, difference-making action. In March, L’Oreal pledged carbon neutrality, and Visa pledged 100 percent renewable energy use at the Climate Leadership conference in Denver. The conference also cheered an agreement between the city of Denver and Excel Energy Colorado to help the city achieve its energy and emissions goals.

These actions don’t come at the expense of the corporate bottom line, either. Individual Leadership Award winner Gerry Anderson, CEO of DTE Energy, told the conference his plans to decommission the company’s aging coal fleet, generate 50% clean energy by 2030, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 are rooted in sound business principles.

In the months since, there has been even more solid action. One of our Business Environmental Leadership Council members, Apple, announced that it now runs on 100 percent green energy. Apple also is teaming up with another BELC member, Alcoa ,to develop a new process for smelting aluminum with no direct greenhouse gas emissions.

Collaborative leadership by local governments is surging, with cities like Asheville, N.C. and Salt Lake City forming partnerships with utilities to improve energy efficiency and promote clean energy. These programs and efforts are now offering lessons for other cities across the country.

However, there is clearly still more work to do. The latest figures show April 2018 was the third-warmest April on record, evidence that a changing climate is still increasing the chances of extreme weather events, as evidenced in the past week.

Building resilience is key. Nowhere is this more evident than in Ellicott City, Md., which is reeling from its second 1,000-year flood in 22 months, the result of changing rainfall frequencies, topography and urbanization. It’s also essential in the Southeastern United States, where the first named storm of 2018 came a week before the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season, causing heavy rain and flooding.

In Puerto Rico, a new study attributes thousands of deaths to the power outage and public health conditions last year in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and out west, states are preparing for what could be another destructive wildfire season.

Lessening the impact of disasters like these is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the economic impact of climate action. A study published last week in the journal Nature shows that by limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the world can save up to $20 trillion in avoided damages.

The progress we’ve seen in the past year and the appetite for even more is truly amazing. C2ES is more committed than ever to working with businesses, states and cities to find solutions that will not only decarbonize our economy, but help it grow and prosper.