Standing Up for Green — Environmental and Economic

Last night Boston City Hall glowed green as a show of support for the Paris Climate Agreement, in the wake of the President’s announcement that the United States is abandoning its commitment to the accord. It was a fitting choice of tribute color, both to symbolize the impact of withdrawal on our environment, and on our economy.

Mitigating the impacts of climate change — not to mention believing in it in the first place — is essential to the economic future of our state and our country. In the lead up to the President’s decision, the CEOs of 30 major companies — including Boston’s own General Electric — made the business case for staying in the Agreement:

“Our business interests are best served by a stable and practical framework. facilitating an effective and balanced response to reducing global GHG emissions. The Paris Agreement gives us that flexible framework to manage climate change while providing a smooth transition for business. We all believe that American companies and our suppliers, customers, and communities will benefit from U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement in several ways:
·It strengthens our competitiveness in global markets.
· It benefits American manufacturing as we modernize to new, more efficient technologies.
·It supports investment by setting clear goals which enable long-term planning.
· It expands global and domestic markets for clean, energy-efficient technologies which will generate jobs and economic growth.
· It encourages market-based solutions and innovation to achieve emissions reductions at low cost.”

The business community’s reaction to yesterday’s announcement was swift and clear.

“Disappointed with today’s decision on the Paris Agreement. Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government,” GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt wrote on Twitter.
“Disappointed with today’s decision. Google will keep working harder for a cleaner, more prosperous future for all,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai shared on twitter.
“Am departing presidential councils. Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world,” CEO of Telsa and SpaceX Elon Musk.
“Protecting our planet and driving economic growth are critical to our future, and they aren’t mutually exclusive,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said in a statement. “I deeply disagree with the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.”

Elon Musk and Bob Igler also announced that they would be resigning from the President’s Council because of the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

But even before America’s participation in the Paris Agreement was in question, it has been clear that addressing climate change is an economic imperative. In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that inaction to proactively reduce greenhouse gas emissions would cost $180 billion in economic losses because of drought and water shortages alone. As a coastal state, Massachusetts will see further costs, according to the Massachusetts Climate Change Adaption Advisory Committee in 2011. A 26-inch sea level rise by 2050 in Boston could cost the state $463 billion in damage.

There’s a lot to be lost by not taking the realities of climate change seriously, including lost economic opportunity. The Commonwealth has long looked at the Challenge of climate change and seen not just a chance to do good, but a chance to grow the economy and create jobs through innovation. Massachusetts has been the number one energy efficient state for six consecutive years according to the American Council for Energy-Efficient Economy, and the state’s clean energy sector is growing. A Sierra Club analysis showed that nationally clean energy employs four times more people than coal or gas industries. The clean energy sector in Massachusetts alone is a $11.8 billion industry, creating over 100,000 jobs, according to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. The industry utilizes innovative technologies, and offers well-paying jobs with 70 percent of industry workers making more than the state’s median wage. Innovation in the clean energy sector is helping the environment, fueling the state economy, and creating good jobs.

With continued focus on the problem of climate change, the opportunities for future innovation and economic growth abound. The Northeast Clean Energy Council’s recent report found that increasing Massachusetts’ and Connecticut’s Renewable Portfolio Standards could create 3,500 jobs per year over a 12-year period across the region. Offshore wind farms are planned for Massachusetts — the type of project expected to create up to 160,000 jobs on both the East and West coasts to support the industry by 2050.

As the federal government fails to lead on climate change, businesses will turn to cities and states to stand up for green — of both the environmental and economic varieties.

Meagan Greene is the Program Director of The Alliance for Business Leadership