Obama says Donald Trump can't undo "irreversible momentum" of clean energy

In an academic article written for the journal Science on Monday, President Barack Obama reassured proponents of clean energy that positive change will continue, even under a Donald Trump presidency. 

Obama's clean energy promise

President Barack Obama before giving a speech on clean energy in UtahMANDEL NGAN/Getty Images

Obama promised clean energy now has an "irreversible momentum" that cannot be derailed by any one country or any one administration, adding he is confident the United States' place in this fight is already determined.

"Despite the policy uncertainty that we face," Obama wrote, "I remain convinced that no country is better suited to confront the climate challenge and reap the economic benefits of a low-carbon future than the United States." 

According to the president, there are four main reasons progress towards clean energy production cannot be reversed:

The myth clean energy hurts the economy has been debunked

Debunking the idea economic growth is inevitably tied to fossil-fuel consumption, the United States' rapidly improving economy has also been contingent with unchanging emissions. This trend is not limited to the U.S., according to Obama; he wrote "The International Energy Agency's (IEA's) preliminary estimate of energy-related CO2 emissions in 2015 reveals that emissions stayed flat compared with the year before, whereas the global economy grew."

The private sector is independently reducing emissions

Businesses are beginning to reduce their emissions independently, not just because it is good for the environment, but also because "it can ... boost bottom lines, cut costs for consumers, and deliver returns for shareholders," the president wrote. "... Total energy consumption in 2015 was 2.5% lower than it was in 2008, whereas the economy was 10% larger."

"Policies that continue to encourage businesses to save money by cutting energy waste could pay a major employment dividend and are based on stronger economic logic than continuing the nearly $5 billion per year in federal fossil-fuel subsidies, a market distortion that should be corrected on its own or in the context of corporate tax reform," Obama added.

Utilities are leaving fossils behind as green energy gets cheaper

Utility companies are actually choosing renewable resources over high carbon options like coal, the president argued.

Citing major increases in the natural gas sector, Obama added, "it is unlikely that utilities will change course and choose to build coal-fired power plants, which would be more expensive than natural gas plants, regardless of any near-term changes in federal policy." He also noted "renewable electricity costs also fell dramatically between 2008 and 2015: the cost of electricity fell 41% for wind, 54% for rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, and 64% for utility-scale PV."

The international community is united behind clean energy

Clean energy has "global momentum" like never before, as other countries and businesses have joined the effort to reduce emissions, the president argued. 110 countries have joined the Paris Agreement, and these 110 countries produce more than 75% of global emissions.

"A short time ago, many believed that only a small number of advanced economies should be responsible for reducing GHG emissions and contributing to the fight against climate change," Obama wrote. "But nations agreed in Paris that all countries should put forward increasingly ambitious climate policies and be subject to consistent transparency and accountability requirements. This was a fundamental shift in the diplomatic landscape, which has already yielded substantial dividends."

What does this mean under a Trump presidency? 

Donald Trump addresses the Scottish Parliament in 2012. He spoke of concerns over a proposed wind farm proposed to be built near his golf resort.Handout/Getty Images

While Trump has flip-flopped on his belief or disbelief in climate change and his energy policies are very likely to create devastating and possibly irreversible effects, Obama remained positive the growing consensus behind a switch to cleaner energy sources is not going away.

"We have long known, on the basis of a massive scientific record, that the urgency of acting to mitigate climate change is real and cannot be ignored," Obama concluded. "In recent years, we have also seen that the economic case for action — and against inaction — is just as clear, the business case for clean energy is growing, and the trend toward a cleaner power sector can be sustained regardless of near-term federal policies."