What Does Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement Mean for U.S. Jobs?

Paris Climate Agreement
President Donald Trump stands next to the podium after speaking about the U.S. role in the Paris climate change accord, June 1, 2017. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo

On Thursday, world leaders (well, at least 194 of them) let out a collective groan as President Donald Trump announced the U.S. was pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The accord is a voluntary agreement among 195 countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other factors scientists have blamed for global warming on their own terms. No regulations, just guidelines.

Since beginning his campaign for president, Trump has repeatedly cited the agreement as a “bad deal” for Americans, noting that it hurt coal miners.

But CEOs and entrepreneurs, including Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Disney’s Bob Iger, say the reality is renewable energy will only drive U.S. economic job growth.

The Outlook for Renewable Energy Jobs is Bright

Indeed, there’s a bright outlook for renewable energy jobs.

For example, take jobs in the solar sector — 373,807 in 2016, according a January report by the U.S. Department of Energy. That’s more than four times the number of people who spent time on coal mining throughout last year.

And how about wind power? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects wind-turbine technicians as the fastest growing jobs through 2024. The bureau expects employment in this particular trade to more than double by that year.

As of 2015, those wind-energy jobs paid a median salary of $51,050 and didn’t require a full college degree. That helps low- and mid-skilled workers find a place in a rapidly changing economy, says a report by jobs site Indeed.

The same could be said of of solar. Construction and manufacturing of solar parts grew at the fastest pace of any sector of that industry, say experts with the Department of Energy in their January report.

Commitment to renewable energy would sustain this growth, business leaders say.

“Protecting our planet and driving economic growth are critical to our future, and they aren’t mutually exclusive,” Iger said in a statement. “I deeply disagree with the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.”

Branson excoriated the decision to withdraw in an interview with NPR, while Musk quit two of the Trump administration’s advisory councils.

Yikes. If you’ve got that many rich dudes throwing shade at your decision, maybe you didn’t make the most business-friendly choice.

And there’s more: According to latest available data from BLS, only 53,420 people were employed in the coal mining industry as of May 2016.

That’s more than 20,000 fewer than The Washington Post reported earlier this year. That article also highlighted that the coal industry employed fewer workers than Arby’s.

Yes, Arby’s.

And the outlook for coal isn’t good.

A paragraph in the energy and environmental research organization Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis’ 2017 U.S. Coal Outlook begins with good news about a coal-friendly administration, but it continues with, “Too many companies are still mining too much coal for too few customers.”

Some Governments Say They’re Still Committed to Renewable Energy

“Disappointed with today’s decision on the Paris Agreement. Climate change is real,” General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt wrote on Twitter yesterday. “Industry must now lead and not depend on government.”

Not all governments, Jeff. Particularly at the state level.

The United States Climate Alliance, a group of three states (bet you can guess which ones) has pledged to meet all the goals of the Paris Agreement, at least within their borders.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, California Gov. Jerry Brown and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (see, I told you) formed the group the same day as Trump’s announcement.

Those Climate Alliance states represent more than 20% of all U.S. economic output, so if those three governors can keep up the momentum with renewable-energy jobs it could have an impact regardless of Trump’s next move.

Another seven states — Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island and Virginia — have also agreed to support the aims of the Paris Agreement.

The U.S. technically can’t withdraw from the Paris Agreement until 2019. And until then, Trump has promised to renegotiate the agreement.

So maybe don’t break out the Mad Max armor just yet.

Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder.

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