Today we're officially out of the Paris Agreement. Now what?

Good afternoon, everyone. Today marks a monumental day that has been three years in the making, and I don’t mean the results of the presidential election. Today the United States officially withdraws from the Paris Agreement, as promised by President Trump.

I spoke with Tony Reames about what this means for climate tech development in the Midwest. He is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School for Environment & Sustainability and the director of the Urban Energy Justice Lab, with a research focus that connects technology, policy, and social equity. Reames said although the withdrawal is not positive for the country and its clean energy progress, he is optimistic about individual state and local commitments that are pushing the movement forward.

Read more of his insight on what this means for Midwest tech development after today’s headlines.

🌱 BIOFUEL:

  • Biofuels Digest examines the re-naming and re-branding efforts taking place across the industry and what it means for technology acceptance. Skokie, Illinois-based biofuel developer LanzaTech is one of the featured businesses.

  • In Minnesota, the Governor’s Council on Biofuels offered recommendations to grow the state’s biofuel industry and meet renewable energy goals, reports Biodiesel Magazine. The recommendations include developing advanced biofuels, boosting public understanding and marketing of biofuels, and using more biofuels in the state’s vehicle fleet.

  • The National Biodiesel Conference & Expo will take place virtually from January 18-21, 2021. Registration is available online.

🚜 AGRICULTURE: Early-stage agtech startups from Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, and Ohio are among the nine chosen to participate in the Row Crop Challenge, which focuses on technologies to accelerate adoption of sustainable farming practices and advance the “farm-of-the-future.”

💰 FUNDING: The U.S. Department of Energy is launching a pilot program to accelerate the adoption of emerging technologies that create energy efficiency improvements for the industrial sector and water and wastewater treatment facilities. The agency is accepting technology proposals on a rolling basis through March.

Now, back to the Paris Agreement withdrawal discussion with University of Michigan Assistant Professor Tony Reames.

As with so many things, this situation is expected to be affected by the outcome of the presidential race, which at publication time is still up in the air. If Trump retains his presidency, no change is expected. But if Joe Biden wins, the U.S. is expected to reenter the Paris Agreement as he promised on the campaign trail.

Reames points out that the Paris Agreement goals present economic opportunity and clean energy jobs, but the withdrawal closes doors to those opportunities. Having the federal government on board with a concept traditionally leads to incentives and grants to advance emerging innovations. Traditionally underserved communities especially are hit because they have fewer resources to recover from both the economic losses and decades of living in areas with higher rates of pollution.

In addition to the situation at the presidential level, uncertainty remains about Congressional potential to advance climate tech legislation with the races for some seats still undecided, as E&E News explains.

Conversely, many state and local governments have doubled down on their own environmental commitments in the past couple years, and that should keep some level of momentum, Reames suggests.

“Whenever the federal government shirks its responsibility, more local levels of government step up. … I think the official withdrawal from the Paris Accord today will reinvigorate local and state governments to act on climate change,” he said. “Just transitioning to a cleaner energy future will create jobs in both research and also the manufacturing space. I think you'll see states make that a part of their economic argument. Everyone will want to be the home for renewable energy manufacturing, and states will find ways to provide the incentives to make that happen.”

That could help climate tech sectors that are strong in the Midwest such as wind power and electric vehicle manufacturing, as well as other emerging fields such as decarbonizing and improving energy efficiency in buildings. “There are some exciting advancements in building electrification. … I think that's a really big space for a lot of research and development and pilot projects. … That's where a lot of investment will happen,” Reames said.

The federal government eschewing the Paris Agreement also could prompt more regional collaborations on climate change efforts, “because climate change doesn't focus on political boundaries,” Reames noted.

Case in point, today U.S. leaders, including Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, expressed continued support for the Paris Agreement principles in their own cities and as a collaboration via the “We Are Still In” campaign. They are touting jobs and economic recovery through means such as innovative energy conservation, renewables expansion, and sustainable farming.

Collaborations are expected across public and private sectors, including a major tech development hotspot: universities. “There's a lot of ingenuity that is coming out of the universities. They are already thinking about clean energy technology development and are partnering with the corporate sector on some research and development. I think those relationships will push this movement forward,” Reames said.

Amid the uncertainty about outcomes from the Paris Agreement withdrawal, one thing remains constant: “No matter what happens, climate change is still going to be one of our most existential threats. So we have to think about how we continue to move forward, whether we have a federal focus on it or not,” Reames said.


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