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The cost of abandoning the Paris climate agreement

July 13, 2017

Andrew Light

By abandoning the Paris agreement on climate change, the United States risks missing out on up to $23 trillion in climate-smart investment opportunities worldwide, a George Mason University professor said.

That will allow other countries to take advantage of the opportunities that will open in emerging markets by 2030, according to a report by the International Finance Corporation.

“They’re doing everything they can to put their businesses front and center to compete for those contracts in that $23 trillion economy,” Andrew Light said of countries such as China and India. “We’re not, and we’re doing it for ideological reasons.”

Light, a University Professor who from 2013-16 worked for the U.S. Department of State as a senior negotiator on the Paris agreement, said the pullout from the agreement doesn’t preclude U.S. businesses from bidding for those contracts.

“But two things have happened,” Light said. “Reputationally, our businesses are going to suffer because we’re turning our back on the rest of the world. If you look at what happened on climate at the G20, we’re isolated. Only the U.S. didn’t sign on to the action plan on climate change. The second thing that happened is you don’t have a government, as we did under the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, using institutions like the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and all our bilateral programs on energy assistance to grease the tracks, as the Chinese and the European Union and others are doing.”

President Donald Trump’s abandonment of the Paris agreement is personal for Light, as well, as both his grandfathers were West Virginia coal miners. Light acknowledged the loss of coal jobs in that state, but said the causes are automation and cheap natural gas, not regulations associated with meeting the goals of the Paris agreement, as Trump has suggested.

“He talks again and again about how the commitment to fulfilling its targets under Paris was going to destroy jobs in the United States, and saying we’re leaving the agreement to help those communities in West Virginia,” Light said. “No sir, that’s not how you help those communities. You do not destroy one thing in hopes of saving the other.

“I think we can make the transition to renewable energy in a very just way that also does justice to the legacy of what people have done in the communities where my parents grew up, and then help them find a more sustainable basis for their environment and their economy moving forward.”

Andrew Light can be reached at 703-993-6530 or alight1@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Damian Cristodero at 703-993-9118 or dcristod@gmu.edu.

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 35,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.