Several social scientists explain why, despite the US exit from the Paris climate agreement, policy analysis reveals states and agencies continue to take climate change seriously.
Erin Pischke, Adam Wellstead and Barry Solomon—all energy policy experts at Michigan Technological University—wrote a guest blog for the university explaining how their research reveals some of the complexity of climate change policy.
The consensus among natural resource scientists, the team writes, is that Trump’s decision sullies this country’s reputation on the world stage and jeopardizes our relationships with other countries, making assertions like, "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” They also say the decision to withdraw can be read as America shirking its duty to take responsibility for its past destructive industrialization and withdrawing from the progressive path forward in finding alternative energy sources.
But they say only so much can be done—or undone—at the national level.
Pischke, Wellstead and Solomon tracked negotiations and renewable energy policy development over a 17-year period in five federal Pan-American countries, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and the US. In their study, the team is investigating the nature of 116 federal and state/provincial renewable energy policies across these countries. Both the number and the content of renewable energy policies a country uses towards an international target, like the Paris Agreement, tells an important part of the story about how well a country will be able to achieve these goals, with or without Trump.
It comes down to what they call the density and intensity of policies. The policy output we measured was policy ‘density’ (i.e. the number of existing policies relating to a particular goal) and policy ‘intensity’ (i.e. the strength the policy has toward meeting specific goals). The higher the policy score for a country, the more likely the country will be able to meet its intended goals.
Their results show that in terms of policy density, the US has the ‘densest’ renewable energy policy output, followed by Canada, Mexico then Argentina and finally, Brazil has the least-dense policy output. Overall, Brazil's and Canada’s renewable energy policies were the most intense, followed by Argentina and the US, with Mexico’s policies receiving the lowest intensity scores. The countries with higher scores on density and intensity scores (i.e. Canada) will be best able to meet their intended goals, which in this case is its Paris Agreement pledge.
The researchers say their findings confirm that Trump’s decision may be tempered by existing renewable energy policies because the majority is state-level undertakings. The US’ decentralized policy creation means that states can continue developing renewable policies with or without the federal government’s leadership or action. Additionally, there are efforts on the part of cities and municipalities to make stronger policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because of the federal government’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement (see the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda).
Just because the US has chosen to leave the Paris Agreement, it does not mean that it will do nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through less-politicized means such as policies that aim to achieve energy independence or save money for American households. Pischke, Wellstead and Solomon's research reveals that climate change policy is a complex undertaking, one where the federal government is increasingly playing less and less of a role.