President Trump is on the verge of a monumental decision: to withdraw from or keep the U.S. in the Paris Agreement. Signed by 194 nations in December 2015, the Paris Agreement establishes a global goal to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But now, the new administration plans to roll back a suite of environmental measures, and the Paris Agreement is potentially on the chopping block. While this might seem like a distant, bureaucratic matter, the Paris Agreement has immediate, tangible benefits on a local scale. Here in Silicon Valley, the agreement will help incentivize innovation, create jobs and spur growth in the clean energy sector today, while reducing costly climate impacts tomorrow. We must remind the Trump administration that the Paris Agreement will help, not hinder, our critical slice of the American economy.
Last month, 16 businesses, including Silicon Valley giants like Apple, Google and Unilever, sent a letter to Trump urging him to keep us in the Paris Agreement. Why? It fosters innovation – the spirit on which Silicon Valley was founded and continues to thrive. The Paris Agreement establishes a long-term goal, so it supports heavy investment in clean technologies such as electric cars and efficient batteries. The Agreement also encourages market-based solutions, which further incentivizes innovation in order to minimize costs.
The Paris Agreement also encourages growth in the clean energy market, which creates jobs. Silicon Valley already develops lots of renewable energy, and stands to benefit enormously from this growth. For instance, from 2015-16, California experienced a 32 percent increase in solar industry jobs. On the other hand, if the U.S. exits the Paris Agreement, it would make the U.S. less competitive compared to other nations that prioritize clean energy, potentially stunting our local market.
Lastly, the global commitments under the Paris Agreement can help reduce climate impacts in Silicon Valley like extreme drought and sea level rise. Severe climate impacts pose significant risk and uncertainty to businesses, but they also endanger communities in Silicon Valley. Cities like East Palo Alto already face disproportionate impacts from fossil fuel generation and toxic sites, and are at great risk from future sea level rise and drought conditions.
Transitioning to a clean energy economy won’t be easy; scientists say that we’ll need emissions reductions well beyond those as part of the Paris Agreement in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. However, the cost of this transition is steadily decreasing, as the price of renewable energy has now become competitive with many fossil fuels, and Silicon Valley is well positioned to lead the charge. Here in California, we are already ahead in renewable energy generation and environmental regulation, and have been operating under a cap-and-trade system for over a decade. Silicon Valley itself is a hub of clean technology startups, and already has much of the necessary capital to continue innovating and growing this sector.
The Paris Agreement will undoubtedly help Silicon Valley continue to grow and innovate. Under the Agreement, the U.S. has set a target of reducing emissions to 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. As an existing leader in energy and climate action, Silicon Valley has the capacity and the responsibility to move our country towards a clean energy economy and mitigate catastrophic climate change for future generations around the globe. Everyone who lives and works here has a stake in this issue.
I encourage you to call the White House at (202) 456-1111 to express your support for the Paris Agreement and tell them how it benefits your community. Your neighbors, your fellow Americans and the rest of the world will thank you.
-Emma Hutchinson ’17
Emma Hutchinson is a senior at Stanford University in environmental policy and communication, and she attended COP 21 as a student journalist. She has previously published her writing in Earth Island Journal, Climate Central and Peninsula Press.
Contact Emma Hutchinson at ehutchin ‘at’ stanford.edu.