U.S. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement Misreads the Evolving Energy Sector

SunPower President and CEO Tom Werner participates in a panel discussion at the COP21 Conference in Paris (December 9, 2015).

Note: The following post appeared on SunPower’s blog following President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. plans to withdraw from the COP21 agreement.

Our nation’s energy sector is changing. The sustained growth of the U.S. solar industry over the past decade speaks directly to the evolution taking place. Today many traditional energy companies have embraced renewables as key to their portfolios. Such a shift is a game changer: It marks a new age of integration, one that stands to benefit every community across the country.

The announcement by the Trump Administration that the United States is pulling out of the COP21 agreement might come across as a win for traditional energy sources over renewables. However, the market tells us that this simply isn’t the case. When the Paris Agreement was finalized in April 2016, companies in the U.S. quickly worked to understand core provisions and principles so that they could factor them into their long-term business plans. By removing the U.S. from the agreement, President Trump has effectively disrupted this market, which will force many to question the possibility of future economic growth across our sector. It’s just as much an economic issue, affecting all providers, as it is an environmental one.

With practically every country in the world signed onto the agreement, the U.S. is now missing a clear opportunity to stand as a leader on an issue that is just as domestic as it is global. To remain competitive with other nations, we must be a part of the infrastructure associated with the Paris Agreement. If the government doesn’t step up, the private sector will. As I’ve shared with policymakers, a departure from COP21 will help other countries secure the business of U.S. manufacturers who are well into making solar integral to their operations.

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By all accounts, other countries are playing to win. A recent report by British non-profit organization Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) showed that, since the United Nations Earth Summit in 1992, Great Britain has decreased emissions by 33 percent and increased its nominal GDP by 150 percent. Costa Rica has also seen great economic success from emission reductions. For the first 75 days of 2015, the entire country only used renewable energy and still sustained a 3.7 percent increase in GDP that year. There are dozens of other examples, large and small, that reinforce this point. In fact, it’s difficult to find a country that hasn’t benefited from a proactive clean energy strategy.

As the U.S. market shifts to one that integrates and elevates everyday use of renewable energy, common sense and practical policymaking must always come first. COP21 is a practical approach to a growing international problem. The significant benefits of this deal will only become clearer with time, and the U.S. should be present to reap the rewards.

When we think about the future of our industry, we immediately think of the continued expansion of solar energy use and the innovation that lies ahead. However, innovation isn’t a guarantee. A future with solar is one that capitalizes on decades of American inventiveness and ingenuity. If we don’t take advantage of these advancements in solar, we will find ourselves unable to meet increasing consumer demand for renewable energy and unable to evolve with the changing needs of our economy.

We look forward to working with policymakers on both sides of the aisle to help ensure that we get it back. 

Tom Werner is president and CEO of SunPower.

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