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Barack Obama at solar energy facility
President Barack Obama delivers remarks on energy after a tour of a solar panel field at the Copper Mountain Solar 1 Facility in Nevada in 2012. (White House Photo / Lawrence Jackson)

In the closing days of his White House term, President Barack Obama argues that the push toward renewable energy is unstoppable, and that it’s a valid strategy for economic growth.

The substance of Obama’s argument isn’t as surprising as where it was made: in a commentary for Science, one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals.

“The mounting economic and scientific evidence leave me confident that trends toward a clean-energy economy that have emerged during my presidency will continue,” Obama writes, “and that the economic opportunity for our country to harness that trend will only grow.”

Obama notes that carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. energy sector have fallen by 9.5 percent since 2008, while the economy has grown by 10 percent. That points to a “decoupling” of growth from greenhouse-gas emissions, and gives the lie to arguments that clean energy requires accepting lower growth rates, he said.

The president also pointed to increasing private-sector investments in clean energy, and reductions in the per-kilowatt cost of solar and wind power. And he pointed out that the trend isn’t limited to the U.S.: Other countries are “seeking to reap benefits … by being at the front of the clean-energy race,” Obama said.

President-elect Donald Trump has called concerns over climate change a “hoax” and has threatened to drop out of the Paris climate accord that took effect last year. Obama argues that stepping away from the Paris agreement would “undermine our economic interests,” but he says Trump could take alternative paths to reach global targets to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Over the next several decades, it would be “prudent” to decarbonize the U.S. energy system, take advantage of carbon sequestration technologies and reduce all industrial emissions, Obama says.

“Of course, one of the great advantages of our system of government is that each president is able to chart his or her own policy course,” Obama writes. “And President-elect Donald Trump will have the ability to do so.”

Obama’s commentary doesn’t draw upon original research, but it’s peppered with 23 footnotes that cite research papers as well as reports and policy statements. The article parallels Obama’s commentary on health-care policy, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in August.

It’s not clear how much credence Trump will give to Obama’s clean-energy views. Many of the people he plans to put in charge of his energy policy strongly favor burning fossil fuels, despite their impact on the environment. But there are some signals that the president-elect may be more open to clean-energy initiatives than his critics expect.

Last week, Electrek reported that Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who is on a Trump advisory board, gave such signals during an event at Tesla’s battery-producing Gigafactory in Nevada.

“I think we may see some surprising things from the next administration,” Electrek quoted Musk as saying, based on reports from investors attending the event. “We don’t think they will be negative on fossil fuels … but they may also be positive on renewables.”

Musk and other tech industry leaders met with Trump last month, and Musk had a follow-up meeting with some of Trump’s aides in New York last week.

Obama’s commentary, “The Irreversible Momentum of Clean Energy,” is freely available on the Web. (A previous version of this report pointed to a password-protected version.)

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