"Locally and globally, only the action of the people saves the climate," the sign says. Demonstrators at the Paris Climate Accord urge people to ignore political standstill and take action, which is exactly what U.S. corporations have been doing in the wake of Trump's withdrawal from the agreement. (Flickr)
Just as it seemed like the United States had taken two steps forward in addressing climate change, a new administration took over in 2017 and Trump has taken us one step backward. With the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, people around the world are left wondering what the future holds for global cooperation in combating climate change.
However, it seems that many state and local politicians in the United States still intend on confronting climate change, even if the Federal government is falling short. Governors from Washington, California, and New York have pulled together to form the U.S Climate Alliance. The alliance now has 13 U.S. states plus Puerto Rico, who are committed to upholding the stipulations agreed upon in the Paris Climate Agreement.
For environmentalists, this is inspiring news. According to the official U.S Climate Alliance website, the alliance represents 1/3 of the U.S. population, contributes $7.6 trillion to U.S. GDP, and represents 1.3 million clean energy jobs. The Alliance has stated that it is “committed to supporting the international agreement, and are pursuing aggressive climate action to make progress toward its goals.”
What does this mean in regards to climate change?
As laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement, the central goal demands: "Holding the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels…” The agreement stipulates that each country come up with its own plan to combat climate change, with the United Nations periodically meeting to keep countries on track with the global goal.
Under the Obama administration, the United States had specified that it planned on cutting domestic greenhouse gas emissions between 26-28% of 2005 levels by the year 2025. The United States also agreed to deliver $3 billion in aid to less-developed countries to assist them in reaching their climate goals. According to the New York Times, the United States has already paid $1 billion of the pledged aid.
However if the Trump administration does carry-through with its withdrawal, Rhodium Group has estimated that under Trump, the United States is still expected to see a 17-19% decrease in emissions from 2005 levels.
Local governments taking action
The actions by the Trump administration aren’t stopping state officials from taking global action. Jerry Brown, Governor of California went to China in early June to discuss climate change with president Xi Jinping.
During the six day trip, Governor Brown visited the provinces of Jiangsu and Sichuan before making his way to Beijing for the Clean Energy Ministerial Conference. The conference unites both private and public delegations to focus on solutions towards three key goals: improve energy efficiency, enhance clean energy supply, and expand clean energy access.
The meeting between Governor Brown and President Jinping demonstrates that China is now regarding climate change as a serious threat and is determined to work with the global community, even if the Trump administration is not.
Governor Cuomo of New York is partnering with the Worker Institute at Cornell University, to work towards the creation of 40,000 clean energy jobs by 2020. This is in an effort to achieve the statewide goal of reaching 50% of electricity from renewables by 2030. You can check out New York’s full initiative program here.
Corporations taking the lead
Support for action on climate change doesn’t stop at the state level. Shortly after the Trump administration's announcement, a group called We Are Still In was formed. This group consists of 2,200 leaders around the country from city halls, state houses, boardrooms, and college campuses. We Are Still In represents leaders who are committed to upholding the agreements set forth in the Paris Climate Accord.
Here’s what Hannah Jones, the vice president of NIKE had to say: “We are deeply disappointed by the recent shift in climate policy...We will continue to honor our commitments on climate, including reaching 100% renewable energy in all NIKE owned or operated facilities around the world by 2025.”
We reached out to New York’s Erie County Executive, Mark Poloncarz a signatory of We Are Still In. We asked what efforts Erie County is making to reach the 26-28% decrease in carbon output: “Currently 70% of electricity that is generated in Erie County comes from hydroelectric sources, so our goal has always been to have more renewable energy sources not just for county government but for our residents.”
The County Executive said that the county is aiming towards making its facilities more environmentally friendly. Some of the efforts include making county buildings more energy efficient and installing solar panels. Poloncarz also indicated that they now purchase more energy efficient vehicles.
It is enlightening news to hear that state and local governments are stepping up to combat climate change. We often forget the impact our state and local actions can have on the world. As more people begin to understand the threats of climate change, it seems inevitable that local and state governments are going to act in the effort to create a sustainable world. Mark Poloncarz ended with hopeful statement: “If the federal government is not going to act, local governments can, and they do have the power to make a difference so that’s what we’re doing.”