US cities, states work on climate change without Trump

2017-05-12 17:36
FILE: Giant machines dig for brown coal at the open-cast mining Garzweiler in front of a smoking power plant near the city of Grevenbroich in western Germany where the IPCC is currently conducting talks on climate change. (Martin Meissner, AP)

FILE: Giant machines dig for brown coal at the open-cast mining Garzweiler in front of a smoking power plant near the city of Grevenbroich in western Germany where the IPCC is currently conducting talks on climate change. (Martin Meissner, AP)

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Washington - Even as President Donald Trump steers the United States away from actively fighting climate change, a number of American cities and states are continuing to pursue renewable energies to reduce their carbon footprint.

Around three dozen states - even some headed by Republicans - have established policies that require power companies to expand the amount of renewable energy they produce in the coming decade.

Beyond the traditional Democratic and pro-environment bastions of California and New York, even states headed by Republican governors including Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Texas and Iowa have decided to invest massively in clean energy.

"I think the surprise to me is how Republican governors appreciate there are opportunities for economic development for investment for innovation by embracing new technologies, both energy efficiency and clean energy, and in spite of the Trump administration turning their back and in fact trying to put up barriers," said Dick Munson, head of the Environmental Defence Fund's energy program in the Midwest.

In Illinois, Republican governor Bruce Rauner recently signed a law, struck with the help of the majority Democratic legislature, setting out more than $200 million in investment annually for renewable energy.

"That is probably the most extensive clean energy legislation in the country," Munson told AFP.

Large mobilisation

In Ohio, governor John Kasich, who lost his battle for the Republican party's nomination in the presidential race last year to Trump, vetoed a bill that would have weakened the state's clean energy efforts.

And in the highly conservative state of Texas, former governor Rick Perry, also a Republican who became Secretary of Energy under Trump, has aggressively pursued wind energy, before saying he would advise Trump to stay in the Paris climate accord.

Texas "produces more wind power per year than every other state of the nation," said Munson, making up a quarter of US wind capacity and 12.7% of Texas's energy needs.

With more turbines under construction, wind will soon furnish 16 percent of Texas's electricity.

Wind made up 5.6% of US energy production last year, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

The leadership of cities and states when it comes to green energy offers "most definitely a pathway to meet our Paris commitment even if the Trump administration is uncooperative or hostile," said Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Beyond Coal Campaign at the Sierra Club.

Energy transition

"We are not building any new coal fired power plant in this country," she added.

Since 2010, 175 coal plants have closed, leaving 270 in operation which produce about 30 percent of US energy.

Natural gas provides 33.8% of US needs, nuclear 19.7% and renewable energy - including wind, solar, biomass and geothermal - 15%.

The clean energy revolution means these methods make good business sense, she added.

And with the abundance of natural gas in the United States, coal is increasingly less competitive. Another 73 coal plants are projected to close by 2030, despite Trump's support for this polluting fossil fuel.

"States and cities in the US is where we make decisions about how we get and produce our electricity," Hitt said.

"Those decisions are not made in Washington and there is not a lot that Trump can do to change these decisions."

More than 200 cities and counties in the United States are now part of Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI), a UN-led network of over 1 500 cities, towns and regions committed to building a sustainable future.

"The commitment of mayors and governors in the US to climate action has never been stronger than today," said Gino van Begin, secretary-general of ICLEI, on the sidelines of a conference in Bonn, Germany, to advance implementation of the 2015 Paris climate accord.

The global deal signed by more than 190 countries aimed to limited global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"This is unstoppable," he added.

"My understanding is that already the US economy also has started to begin to decouple from carbon."

In the past decade, US gross domestic product increased 10 percent while the carbon emission decreased nine percent, he said.

Read more on:    donald trump  |  us  |  environment

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