Not all of the USA is ditching the Paris Agreement – Let’s Support the Progressive Majority

By – Professor Peter Graham, Global Buildings Performance Network
Deputy Director, Centre for Urban Transitions, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia

The Trump administration’s retrograde decision to back out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will damage the USA’s reputation as a progressive global leader, but need not diminish efforts to tackle climate change. When you look carefully at U.S. commitments to climate action in the lead up to, and during the Paris COP21 in 2015, most were by sub-national governments, cities and businesses. These commitments are generally more specific and outcome oriented than the United States’ now abandoned national goal of reducing CO2 emissions by “26-28 per cent below its 2005 level in 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28%.”[i]

Altogether 183 U.S. cities, 21 states and 353 companies have registered commitments on the UNFCCC’s NAZCA database of climate actions[ii]. It is reassuring that major U.S. cities, including Pittsburg and Washington D.C., have reaffirmed their commitment to actions in line with the goal of limiting global average temperature rise to well below 2oC above pre-industrial levels. States like California, Minnesota and New York State have committed to reduce emissions by 80 to 95%, or limit to 2 metric tons CO2e per capita, by 2050. U.S. corporations are also taking ambitious actions. Apple Inc. for example have among other commitments, committed to purchase carbon neutral electricity for U.S. operations, while 3M are committing to reduce operational CO2 emissions by 50% by 2025. Even resources companies like Exxon Mobile and Chevron have committed to climate action by implementing carbon pricing[iii]. As of 2016 more than US$32 billion had been invested in energy efficiency programs in the USA[iv]

In the building sector, which represents about 44% of U.S. energy related GHG emissions[vi], building energy efficiency codes are developed predominantly by industry, civil society and sub-national government stakeholders, endorsed by state governments and implemented by local governments. The Federal government can offer incentives for states to adopt stringent standards, but have no jurisdiction to mandate their adoption. U.S. Cities are also organizing to implement next generation energy savings policies and programs for large buildings with the help of programs such as the City Energy Project.[vi]

The value of the market for energy efficient buildings for both renovation and new build in the U.S. has grown by nearly 25% since 2009 and was valued at more that $24Bn in 2014. This still represents only about 2.4% of the total US$960Bn commercial and residential construction market. There is therefore huge potential for growth, supported by the availability of the new International Construction Code (ICC) and ASHREAE model codes aimed at achieving cost-effective energy savings of 30%, and the many sub-national, professional, and city-led building sector decarbonisation programs. New financing mechanisms such as ESCOs and Energy Services contracts are also beginning to build scale with project pipelines estimated in 2012 at US$4-$6Bn/yr and US$500M/yr respectively[vii].

The U.S. States, Cities and businesses – those with the power to act directly to reduce energy demand and greenhouse emissions are committed – even if the Trump Administration is not. By backing out of the Paris Agreement Trump has isolated his administration from both America and the international community. We must now rally to support the progressive majority to achieve and exceed their commitments to climate action.

[i] USA – Intended Nationally Determined Contribution submitted to COP21 UNFCCC
Accessed 2nd June 2017

[ii] UNFCCC NAZCA Climate Action Data Base accessed 2nd June 2017

[iii] UNFCCC NAZCA accessed 2nd June 2017

[iv] Global Status Report on Buildings & Construction 2016, Global Alliance on Buildings & Construction – United Nations Environment Programme, November.

[v] Architecture 2030 citing U.S. Energy Information Administration 2012. accessed 2nd June 2017


[vii] Fulton & Brandenburg, (2012) United States Building Energy Efficiency Retrofits: Market sizing and Financing Models, DB Climate Change Advisors, Deutche Bank Group, USA March