With more than 190 nations adopting an accord in Paris to fight global warming Saturday, Americans need not brace for a raft of new onerous regulations, laws and restrictions imposed as a result, experts say.
Even though the U.S. is second only to China as a climate polluter, many of the initiatives needed to keep global temperatures in check over the long term are already being implemented.
President Obama gave a nod to those efforts in lauding the agreement. "We've transformed the United States into the global leader in fighting climate change," he said. He pointed to new ventures in wind and solar energy and jobs that have come with them.
Progress has come on many fronts.
The U.S. has gone through two two rounds of regulations to boost automakers' average fuel economy in the cars they produce. Better fuel economy works in tandem with lowering carbon emissions. Appliances have become more efficient. Costs of LED light bulbs and solar panels have fallen, fostering greater acceptance. Less electricity is being generated by coal-fired power plants.
"Those are happening without people noticing," says John Coequyt, director of climate policy for the Sierra Club. "Renewable energy is getting cheaper."
Americans are less likely to feel pain from the accord since the U.S., like other countries, had control over what it believed it realistically could accomplish, says Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. Since the goals are shaped around many current or planned initiatives, the agreement is unlikely to result in new rules being imposed on Americans.
Lawmakers opposed to the agreement could seek to reverse progress in the future against global warming on the basis that it is costing jobs or imposing economic hardship on Americans, but it's unlikely to touch many of the initiatives already going on, he says. "Even if that happens, I don't see them rolling any of these (initiatives) back," Stavins says.
That's partly because Americans are discovering there's little trade off between protecting the environment and creating jobs, says Alden Meyer, strategy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists. The drive toward reducing greenhouse gases has created new technologies and industries to support them.
The Paris agreement "sends a powerful message (that the) smart money ought to be betting on the clean-energy future," Meyer says.
If nothing else, the agreement takes one of the key arguments against the U.S. joining in the fight against global warming off the table. That is the argument that if the U.S. enacted tough environmental rules, other countries wouldn't need to follow suit and would become lower-cost industrial producers. With so many countries joining in the accord, the argument now falls by the wayside, according to Meyer.
As it turns out, says the Sierra Club's Coequyt, a lot of the changes needed to meet terms of the accord have gone largely without complaint.
"It's not that big of a deal to go solar," he says. "Right now, a quarter of coal plants are retired or scheduled to be retired and nobody noticed."
Coequyt, interviewed by phone from Paris, said, "We have been trying to get the U.S. to take climate change seriously for a long time." Now, that time has come.