LITTLE ROCK — Despite President Donald Trump’s announcement Thursday that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate accord, Arkansas can do its part to fight global warming, advocates for climate action say.
“Arkansas is going to be able to do amazing things here in the state regardless of international agreements,” said Glen Hooks, director of the Arkansas chapter of the Sierra Club. “What happened with withdrawing form the Paris agreement is it has affected our ability to work internationally to address carbon emissions on global scale.”
The U.S. joins Nicaragua and Syria as the only nations opposing the climate accord. Under the voluntary, non-binding agreement, which former President Barack Obama joined in 2015, the U.S. — the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide after China — pledged that by 2025 it would lower carbon emissions that contribute to climate change by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels, or about 1.6 billion tons of annual emissions.
Trump has said the agreement placed a disproportionately heavy burden on the U.S. and would cost American jobs. Critics of the president’s position say renewable energy is the fastest-growing sector of the American job market and that slowing the move to cleaner energy would hurt, not help, the economy.
At least 10 American governors and dozens of mayors have said they will remain committed to the goals of the Paris agreement despite the president’s announcement. Among them are two Arkansas mayors: Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola and Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan.
Stodola said in a news release Friday, “As cities, we will not let the decision stand in the way of us tackling this environmental, economic and national security issue for our children and grandchildren. We will continue to take action.”
Jordan said in a news release Thursday, “Climate change poses a very serious threat, but also a significant economic opportunity for our city and our nation. Fayetteville is committed to working with leaders of other cities, states, universities, and businesses to combat climate change by supporting a low-carbon economy and creating good jobs in energy efficiency and renewable energy.”
“Cities are where it’s at,” Hooks said. “Local efforts to become more sustainable and more green and more clean aren’t affected by silly things the president is doing like pulling out of international deals.”
Hooks said the Sierra Club has launched a campaign called “Ready for 100” that calls on mayors to support the goal of 100 percent clean energy. Sixty-eight mayors have joined the campaign, according to the organization’s website.
Hooks noted that two years ago there were no solar or wind projects in Arkansas, but today there are solar energy projects in Camden, Stuttgart, North Little Rock and Benton, and solar projects are being built in Ozark and Bearden. Southwestern Electric Power Co., Entergy and electric cooperatives are building their own solar farms, and SWEPCO is importing hundreds of megawatts of wind energy, he said.
“These things are happening because it makes economic as well as environmental sense,” Hooks said.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement provided to the Arkansas News Bureau that he supports Trump’s decision and does not believe it will prohibit climate action.
“President George W. Bush made the same decision in 2001 when he pulled America out of the Kyoto Protocol for similar reasons,” Hutchinson said. “I did not view President Bush’s decision then nor do I view President Trump’s decision now as a slight to the issues facing our climate. Both were simply the rejection of a terribly unfair and ineffective deal that put the United States at a great economic disadvantage with our international counterparts.”
Hutchinson said Arkansas is known to the rest of the country as the Natural State and said it is a reputation the state is proud of and takes seriously. He said his administration has focused on balanced and effective regulatory systems to protect the environment while driving economic growth.
“As Arkansans, we know what it means to be good stewards of the environment,” he said. “We also know how destructive overregulation can be to economic growth. There’s a responsible balance, of which the Paris accord failed to achieve.”