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Does it matter if the US doesn’t lead on climate change policy?

Jed Kim Jun 1, 2017
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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Does it matter if the US doesn’t lead on climate change policy?

Jed Kim Jun 1, 2017
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
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One of the recurring arguments for the U.S. to stay in the Paris Climate Agreement was that if we left, we’d be giving up leadership on the global fight against climate change.

Now, China and the European Union are pledging to fill the gapSo just what does the U.S. lose if it’s no longer leading the global fight against climate change?

“Nothing,” said Kevin Book, the managing director of the research firm ClearView Energy Partners. He means nothing right now, but added “…it discards optionality that the president and his administration could have to change the shape of the Paris Agreement and change the pace of its enforcement.”

Pulling out also sends a strong signal that the U.S. is less interested in the investment opportunities that could arise from the Paris deal.

“We’re not going to be supporting our companies, our startups, our business leaders as they seek to take advantage of those opportunities,” said Rob Day of Spring Lane Capital, a firm that invests in renewable technology.

How big are those opportunities?

“If you simply add up the commitments under the Paris deal until 2025, it’s about a trillion dollars a year of investment that is open for bidding,” said Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute.

And China, eager to be seen as the new global leader on climate change, will push hard for related business opportunities, including making things like solar panels and wind turbines.

“China really sees huge economic growth opportunities in taking the lead in global climate change,” said Carla Freeman, who directs the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins. “Not only technology sectors but even in finance. China has launched a whole array of green finance instruments.”

It’s quite a shift from days not too long ago, when China saw emissions caps as hurting growth.

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