Community, city, and state level action on climate change has intensified to fill the gap left by the federal government after Donald Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in June 2017. Mayors, city officials, and business leaders across the country have committed to reducing their impacts on the environment and over 400 cities have adopted the goals of the Paris Agreement.
RNRF’s Fall Meeting featured presentations on climate change action at local and state levels from three major coalitions formed in the wake of the Paris withdrawal: We’re Still In, America’s Pledge, and the U.S. Climate Alliance. Speaker presentations were followed by robust discussion from representatives of over 20 private sector, federal government, and non-profit organizations. The meeting was hosted by the American Society of Landscape Architects at its Washington, D.C. headquarters.
Kevin Kennedy, deputy director of the U.S. Climate Initiative at World Resources Institute, introduced the America’s Pledge initiative. Kennedy’s presentation focused on details from America’s Pledge’s recent report Fulfilling America’s Pledge, which was released during the California Global Climate Action Summit in September 2018.
America’s Pledge was formed with three goals in mind: 1) to survey non-federal climate action in the U.S., particularly current actions and the potential for more action, 2) to communicate those findings to both international and domestic audiences, and 3) to catalyze further climate action by states, cities, and businesses in the near-term. Fulfilling America’s Pledge compiled emissions reduction policies and progress so far in reaching the U.S.’s Paris Agreement Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) of 26-28% in greenhouse gas emission reductions.
The report found that the U.S. is almost halfway to this target and that current commitments from the federal government and market forces could see a further decline to 17% below 2005 levels by 2025. In 2017, America’s Pledge released its Phase 1 Report outlining ten Climate Action Strategies – key priority areas that would have the most near-term impact on greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Fulfilling America’s Pledgereported that emissions could be further reduced to 21% by fully implementing those ten measures, and even broader buy-in from coalitions of cities, states, and businesses could see a reduction of up to 24% of 2005 levels by 2025.
Kennedy outlined some current strategies already being taken at the sub-federal level to reduce emissions. These include retrofitting buildings to be more energy-efficient, regional strategies for sequestering carbon in agricultural and forest land, carbon pricing programs, identifying and mitigating methane leaks, and accelerating the retirement of coal plants. Kennedy cautioned that, although commitments across the country have been made to reduce emissions, there will still be a tremendous amount of effort required to meet and exceed those commitments. With that in mind, he further reiterated that Fulfilling America’s Pledge seeks to encourage actors around the country to look for places where a particular state, city, or business has the potential to make a difference in their emission reductions.
Shara Mohtadi, senior advisor to the president of New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) described state-level greenhouse gas reduction policies in New York, and how coordination works among the states of the the U.S. Climate Alliance. The U.S. Climate Alliance is a coalition of 17 governors (3 Republican, 14 Democrat), whose mission is to keep their states on track to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. There are three criteria that states must meet to join the coalition: 1) collectively the states must meet the U.S. nationally determined contribution (NDC) of greenhouse gas emission reduction outlined in the Paris Agreement, 2) all coalition states must publicly track their progress in reducing emissions (detailed in an annual report), and 3) member states must also commit to accelerating and strengthening existing state policies meant to reduce emissions.
Once states have joined the Climate Alliance, the organization works to enhance the states’ individual capacities to research and implement climate-conscious policies. Mohtadi noted, for example, that some states only have a handful of employees working on climate policy issues, while others have 500 or more. The Climate Alliance helps aggregate the states’ resources and philanthropic funding, directing resources to states with smaller institutional capacities. Another aim of the coalition is to leverage the significant market share among all of the states to raise industry standards for greenhouse gas pollution nationwide. Climate Alliance states California, Connecticut, Maryland, and New York have already started by announcing their intention to reduce their limits for hyper-polluting hydrofluorocarbon emissions than federal law requires. Similar work is underway to raise appliance standards.
Elan Strait, U.S. campaigns director for World Wildlife Fund, concluded the meeting with a talk on the We’re Still In initiative. We’re Still In represents a broad, multi-sectoral coalition of American businesses, non-profit organizations, and local governments interested in staying in the Paris Climate Agreement. The coalition was initially formed for two reasons: 1) to encourage other countries to stay in the agreement by showing an international audience that Americans still care deeply about climate policy, and 2) to show other Americans that, despite federal-level rhetoric, the Paris Agreement has wide domestic, bipartisan support among the general population. We’re Still In initially aimed at only putting out a statement that various organizations and governments could sign to support global climate action. However, when large numbers organizations began signing on (now over 3,000), We’re Still In began seeking other ways to mobilize their coalition.
Strait acknowledged that without leadership at the federal level, We’re Still In and other similar campaigns and coalitions need to focus on making change at the state and local levels. The next steps for We’re Still In will be to form state-level coalitions similar to their national membership list in order to create greater coordination among state-level actors, to provide organized support in response to oil- and gas-funded groups with well-funded and established networks, and to put pressure on individual senators that are key in changing the national trend in climate action.
While strong federal leadership would provide much needed support in emissions-reducing policies and resources, there is still a great deal of work that can be done among the many thousands of non-national actors who want to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Fall Meeting proved to be an excellent opportunity for reviewing and discussing the need to build and maintain momentum for climate action at the state and local level. Coalitions such as We Are Still In, America’s Pledge, and the U.S. Climate Alliance provide research, policy support, and avenues for coordination to build domestic support for the Paris Agreement. They also demonstrate to the international community that the U.S. still takes climate issues seriously.
See the full Fall Meeting agenda here.
Download Kevin Kennedy’s PowerPoint presentation here.
Other reports cited during RNRF’s Fall Meeting include the IPCC 1.5° Report, the most recent New York Clean Energy Industry Report, and the Obama White House report Climate Change: The Fiscal Risks Facing the Federal Government