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The United States plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. So what happens now?

Aug 16, 2017

President Donald Trump has announced the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. If Trump follows through on those plans, the country would pull out of the international agreement in November 2020. So what does that mean for Michigan, both now and in the future?

As part of Michigan Radio’s Issues & Ale event series, climate experts gathered on Tuesday night at Bill’s Beer Garden in Ann Arbor to discuss just that.

The discussion began with the “cliff notes” version of what exactly the Paris Climate Accord is.

The panel from left to right: Rebecca Williams, Andrew Hoffman, Jeff Masters, and Matthew Naud
Credit Lindsey Scullen / Michigan Radio

Moderator Rebecca Williams, reporter for Michigan Radio's Environment Report, explained:

“On Dec. 12, 2015, 195 nations made a pact to adopt green energy sources, cut down on climate change emissions, and limit the rise of global temperatures,” she said. “They pledged to work together to cope with the impact of unavoidable climate change.”

The main goal of the agreement, she said, is to keep the average global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. She said the agreement hopes to hold temperature rise "well below” that two-degree mark.

For an idea of what exactly a two-degree temperature rise would look and feel like, Williams turned to panelist Jeff Masters, co-founder and director of meteorology at Weather Underground.

“We’re already at a one-degree rise, so you take what we’ve done over the past 100-plus years and you double that,” Masters said. “And we’re expected to get there maybe as soon as 20 years from now.”

He said warming has already caused a “sharp increase” in both heavy precipitation that causes flash floods and in extreme heat events. Masters said what he's most worried about is what future droughts would look like in a world that’s two degrees warmer.

“It’s going to put a big stress on crops to try and grow in that sort of heat when rains don’t come,” he said. “Things are going to dry out a lot more. Crops are going to fail.”

Still, compared to other areas of the world, Masters said Michigan is “pretty well prepared” for a two-degree temperature rise. That’s good, because as it stands now, Masters said it’s unlikely we’ll achieve the goal of keeping it below that mark. 

“If all of the commitments of the Paris Accord are fulfilled, we’re going to see about a 3.5 degree Centigrade warmer world, so we’re going to have to do a lot more than what Paris put out there to hold it to two degrees Centigrade,” he said.

That's going to be hard to accomplish, he said.

But if we are going to accomplish climate change goals, panelist Andrew Hoffman said business has to be involved. Hoffman is the Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan.

The audience applauds as the event wraps up.
Credit Lindsey Scullen / Michigan Radio

“Whether you like it or not, business is the most powerful institution on Earth within the market,” Hoffman said. “And so, if business isn’t solving this problem, it won’t be solved.”

He said the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Accord brings uncertainty to the business sector.

“If you think about climate change in business terms, think about it as a market shift,” he said. “And there will be winners and there will be losers.”

He said most companies see a climate change related market shift coming, so they are working to shift at the right time.

But Hoffman said an international agreement is not “the only mechanism” that’s pushing business toward more eco-friendly habits. He listed state legislators, city governments, insurance companies, banks, suppliers, consumers, and more as other factors driving the market.

“The U.S. may pull out,” he said. “California is still in. The EU and the rest of the world is still in. Multi-national corporations exist in global markets, and they don’t like to make one product for one market and another product for another market.”

“And so this market shift is building momentum. It’s already happening in numerous sectors. And Trump can’t stop that. He can’t bring back coal and he can’t turn back the innovation curve on certain renewables.”

Ann Arbor’s city government is one player in Michigan contributing to that market shift. The city’s mayor has promised to uphold the accord’s goals despite the United States’ plan to withdraw.

Listen to the full conversation above to hear Matthew Naud, environmental coordinator for the city of Ann Arbor, explain what exactly Ann Arbor is doing to fulfill that promise, as well as the full panel discussion and questions from the audience. 

For information on upcoming Issues & Ale events, click here.