IT’S BEEN A sobering few months for clean energy advocates. Despite the Trump administration’s disdain for programs and policies intended to lower the carbon emissions that threaten the safety and well-being of the nation, Boston and like-minded cities are surging ahead to take advantage of the economic, health and other benefits inherent in a carbon-free economy.
We now know that there is unstoppable momentum in the city and state-driven clean energy markets – enough to keep renewables alive and growing through the next four years and beyond. According to the Energy Information Administration, renewable energy accounted for 70 percent of new energy capacity added in the U.S over the past two years. And it’s a trend that is expected to continue.
Local and regional clean energy-focused economies, together with a coalition of major international corporations that have pledged to run all of their operations with 100 percent renewable energy, see enormous opportunities. We’re in a new ball game, with a big upside for Boston.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said recently that if the Trump administration withdraws from the Paris Climate Agreement, he will push for the 128 U.S. mayors who are part of the Global Covenant of Mayors to join in its place. And why not?
Cities account for more than 70 percent of global energy use and produce roughly half of greenhouse gas emissions. More than 80 percent of global Gross Domestic Product is generated in cities, according to the World Bank. Actions that cities and large companies take will drive the global carbon economy as much, if not more, than national actions.
Moreover, the world’s mayors are in a fundamentally different position than the federal government relative to climate change impacts. They’re on the front line – every day. Like Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, city leaders have an immediate and direct responsibility to their residents who, as it turns out, don’t so much care for scorching heat, nuisance flooding, superstorms, drought-induced water rationing and other climate-driven problems.
Boston, which is part of the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance and other international city-based carbon reduction initiatives, is at the forefront of carbon mitigation and climate resilience planning and action. Walsh’s Climate Ready Boston initiative has provided the most thorough and rigorous future impacts analysis of any city in the nation. Now, he is rolling out an action plan to address those impacts. A detailed carbon reduction plan, Carbon Free Boston, is not far behind, in collaboration with the Boston Green Ribbon Commission.
In Massachusetts, the Green Communities Act and other legislation have benefitted the state’s economy year after year. According to the latest report from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the clean energy industry accounts for more than 105,000 jobs in the Commonwealth, contributes $11.8 billion to the Gross State Product, and has grown by 75 percent – or 45,000 workers – since 2010. This squares with national data showing that clean energy-related employment gains are far outpacing overall US job growth. Talk about putting America back to work! And there’s plenty more growth to be had in Massachusetts, not least as our world-class offshore wind resources come on line.
The Trump administration’s retreat from clean energy won’t prevent us from continuing to grow clean energy in Boston, or from making progress toward Massachusetts’ commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050 – goals that mirror Boston’s own targets.
As both the president of Ceres, a Boston nonprofit mobilizing business sustainability leadership worldwide, and a founding member of the Green Ribbon Commission, which focuses on sustainability in Boston, I see climate actions at the global and local levels every day. My commission colleagues – leaders of hospitals, universities, real estate companies and energy providers – all know what it takes to move business forward through challenges.
After years of hearing about high clean energy costs, we’re now in a new paradigm where clean energy (both wind and solar) is cheaper than fossil fuel energy in many parts of the country. Global corporations such as Google, Walmart and Microsoft know that fossil fuels do not represent a long-term energy strategy – and so does Boston. Too bad Washington can’t see it, too, but that won’t stop us.
Mindy Lubber is president of Ceres and a founding member of the Boston Green Ribbon Commission.