Local Actors Build Understanding to Accelerate Climate Action
Diplomacy has been the traditional domain of national governments. In climate, this is no longer the case. With the announcement of the U.S withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, local actors in the United States are standing up alongside the international community to make clear that they have a key role to play. A key subnational leader on climate, California Governor Jerry Brown emphasized the role of cities, states, and corporations as a key step to enhancing and accelerating climate action to a crowd in GMF’s Brussels office November 9.
The “We are Still In” movement is regarded as the perfect example of U.S sub-national climate action and leadership: 2,500 leaders from U.S city halls, state houses, boardrooms, and college campuses have signed the “We Are Still In declaration” since its initial release on June 5, 2017. This unprecedented network of networks represents more than 127 million Americans and $6.2 trillion of the U.S. economy in pursuit of fighting climate change and delivering on the Paris Agreement.
“For California, the sixth largest economy, climate is at the top of the agenda”, insisted Brown before heading to Bonn for COP23. “Climate is an existential threat. If we don’t manage to take effective actions, people are going to suffer immensely, both physically and socially. Unfortunately, we are not on track yet to do what we need to do.”
California has long been a leader in climate change action. The California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) established California as a global leader in reducing GHG emissions. Recently, in 2015, to ratchet up their efforts and turn climate objectives into meaningful action, the state co-founded with Baden-Wurttemberg (Germany) the Under2 Coalition, aimed at limiting GHG emissions to 2 tons per capita, or 80–95 percent below 1990 levels. Today, over 170 jurisdictions from across the world has joined, encompassing 1,2 billion people and 39 percent of the world population.
“The next steps translate into giving concrete definitions of the nationally determined contributions we made in Paris,” said Brown. For the California Governor, there is not a clear trajectory yet that will lead us to 0 emissions before 2050. “How are we going to transform our carbon-economy into a non-carbon economy? Our growth and prosperity model has been based on fossil fuels. Transitioning from this model is going to be a great technical and political challenge. It means changing the basics of our civilization.”
All this takes leadership, vision, and collaboration of all the stakeholders. “But in fighting climate change, the main challenge is that nobody is in charge,” said Brown. And unfortunately in the United States, there are two dueling set of actors with opposing objectives.
This was evident during COP23 as, for the first time, the United States did not host a national pavilion at a Conference of the Parties. The U.S delegation office has kept a low profile, being almost always closed, and has opted instead for sending a high-level delegation to a conference in Texas to promote coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy as an answer to climate change. By contrast, the “U.S. Climate Action” Pavilion at COP23, funded by former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other subnational leaders provides a high-profile forum to accelerate climate action and ensure the world that the “U.S. has not gone dark on climate action.”
This has been precisely the goal of the American pledge’s report released November 11, compiling the scope and scale of non-federal climate action in the United States and reassuring the world that subnational actions are not only the low-hanging fruit of climate policy. To many, previous subnational initiatives, such as the U.S.–China subnational relations, added a crucial dimension to existing federal objectives. However, today, they intend to bypass and get ahead national government climate policy. And thus, there is some concern about their impact or feasibility. What can we realistically expect from states and cities’ climate action without federal support? Are they going to be a substitute for national-level negotiations?
On this Brown was clear: “Here, cities, states, nations and the corporate can play a key role. We should not only focus on the fact that U.S. is withdrawing. That’s a minor factor. We need to focus on what we need to do from here until 2050. These years are going to go fast.”
Climate change encompasses so much that it is hard to grasp in its entirety. At the same time, it is not an issue that prompts political leaders forward, such as job creation. Building understanding around the issue can help accelerate the pace of action.
How can we make climate change a concrete issue?
GMF’s BUILD 2017 will bring together leaders from city governments in Copenhagen, Essen, Oakland, Virginia, and corporate leaders from JP Morgan Chase & Co. for the session “Clean, Green and Seen: Transatlantic Allies for Local Climate Agendas.” The goal is to understand how local governments, business leaders and stakeholders on both sides of the Atlantic can unleash their full potential for action, while also driving cities’ sustainability agenda. The discussion will be framed around the building blocks directed to effectively advance a sustainability agenda:
The Tactical (visioning and process strategizing): How to lay down a long-term plan for ambitious climate, energy, and broader sustainability actions which integrate multiple policy areas, objectives and levels? How to connect long-term visions with short-and mid-term actions? How to ensure equity and inclusion is embedded in this process?
The Operational (innovation and stakeholder engagement): How to accelerate innovation, encourage experimentation, orient inventiveness, and maximize the key role of the private sector to reinforce mutual interests and speed up climate actions?
The Reflexive (monitoring impact and learning): How to monitor and evaluate the transition process itself toward ambitious climate, energy, and broader sustainability actions? How to incorporate lessons and technical innovations from other cities and stakeholders across the Atlantic?
Fortunately, a power community of subnational leaders are committed to local sustainability agendas. Now we need to start working on how to make it happen.
Further Reading: Subnational Leaders Take Charge on Climate
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.