New Era of Climate Action: Local Forces Fill the Vacuum Left by the Feds

The U.S. is entering a new era of climate action, says the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Paul Bodnar. A coalition of local entities is gathering strength and stepping forward to fill what, until now, has been a federal effort.

climate actionA new era of U.S. climate action has dawned. In the four short days since President Trump announced his intent to withdraw from the landmark Paris Agreement, more than 1,000 U.S. states, cities, businesses, and universities have organized themselves into an unprecedented coalition dedicated to continuing strong U.S. climate leadership. In their “We Are Still In” statement issued yesterday, American governors, mayors, investors, CEOs, and college and university leaders are sending a clear signal that they remain committed to the goals of the Paris Agreement and will press forward regardless. This action opens a new chapter in the history of international collaboration on climate change.

States, cities, and businesses are not new to the climate scene: they have made impressive commitments to clean energy and reduced emissions in recent years through various platforms like Under2MOU, C40, and Low Carbon USA. But internationally, where sovereign nations negotiated the Paris Agreement, subnational actors have tended to play second fiddle—until now.

By virtually any measure, the combined size of the signatories to the June 5 “We Are Still In” pledge is larger than most countries. The cities and states that have signed the statement range from Los Angeles and Oregon to Houston, Tallahassee, and the Commonwealth of Virginia. They have a combined GDP of $6.2 trillion and population of 120 million. The more than 900 signatory companies (so far) have combined revenue of $1.4 trillion and assets under management of $2.1 trillion. And the number of participants continues to climb by the hour.

Since President Trump’s announcement, world leaders have lined up to confirm their commitment to the Paris accord. Now they know they have a partner in the United States, even if it’s not the federal government. And in fact, the dramatic decrease in carbon emissions that the U.S. has seen in recent years is significantly due to the work of state and local governments and the private sector. President Trump has withdrawn the official “nationally determined contribution” (NDC) of the United States under the Paris Agreement—the goal of reducing emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025 compared to 2005 levels. But intriguingly, if you add up the combined commitments of the states, cities, and businesses that have joined forces, they would form an impressive alternative NDC or, more appropriately, a “societally determined contribution.” If losing the commitment of the federal government to the Paris Agreement spurs states, cities, businesses, universities, and investors to do substantially more to reduce carbon emissions, then the result could even be a net positive for our country, our climate, and our planet.

Leaders of institutions and enterprises across the U.S. are clear-eyed about their commitments, and what’s at stake. Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer of Microsoft, said, “We remain steadfastly committed to the sustainability, carbon, and energy goals that we have set as a company and to the Paris Agreement’s ultimate success. Our experience shows us that these investments and innovations are good for our planet, our company, our customers, and the economy.” And they understand that American leadership is necessary in the fight against climate, even as our government begins the process of withdrawing from an accord we did so much to create. Mayor Frank Cownie, of Des Moines, Iowa, said, “I have seen firsthand how other countries look to the United States as the most important leader in addressing climate change and the resulting impacts. It is my hope that cities and states will continue to lead this work.”

The signers understand that committing the U.S. to the Paris Agreement protects much more than the climate, and offers benefits far beyond maintaining the status quo. Accelerating the clean energy transition already underway in the U.S. and around the world will create jobs, ensure security and stability, and create far more value than it requires in investments. For the U.S. in particular, it will promote trade, help ensure our security, spur innovation, and provide for continued competitiveness.

Rocky Mountain Institute is proud to have played a part in creating this new effort, and we will continue to engage with climate leaders who understand that building a clean energy economy is right for the climate, but is also a driver of economic growth, jobs, and healthy communities.

Paul Bodnar is a managing director at the Rocky Mountain Institute. This blog was reposted with permission from RMI Outlet. 

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