In one of his first acts, President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Jan. 20 rejoining the Paris Agreement, recommitting the U.S. to the landmark international effort to limit global warming. Biden took the action after the previous administration formally withdrew the nation from the accord, effective late last year. Now, attention is focused on the White House as Biden’s follow-through is anticipated at the upcoming Climate Summit for Earth Day, where the president is expected to promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by 2030, multiple outlets have reported, following pressure from business and state leaders.
But while U.S. action at the federal level is important, it’s only part of the equation. According to Nathan Hultman, senior fellow in the Brookings Institution’s global economy and development program, U.S. climate action is not only best viewed through the federal lens, but also at a more local level.
“I think if we look at that story over the last five to seven years, what we’ve seen is … more fundamentally a changing trend over those years of increasingly accelerating action from the sub-nationals in the U.S. — so states, cities, businesses and others,” Hultman said during a press call on Tuesday.
While the U.S. began withdrawing from the Paris Agreement under the Trump administration, and as the administration rolled back regulation on carbon dioxide and fuel efficiency standards, among other regulations, it fell to states to honor the global agreement. In summer 2017, on the heels of the Trump administration’s announcement of its plans to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former California Gov. Jerry Brown announced the formation of the U.S. Climate Alliance: a group of states committed to taking action to address climate change.
“I am proud to stand with other governors as we make sure that the inaction in D.C. is met by an equal force of action from the states,” Inslee said in a statement on June 1, 2017, marking the formation of the state alliance. “Today’s announcement by the president leaves the full responsibility of climate action on states and cities throughout our nation. While the president’s actions are a shameful rebuke to the work needed to protect our planet for our children and grandchildren, states have been and will continue to step up.”
Since then, the bipartisan U.S. Climate Alliance has grown to include governors of 24 states and Puerto Rico, and has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 26% and 28% from 2005 levels by 2025, among other goals. Some states have made their commitments through executive order, while others have been made in longer-lasting statutes.
Although the group represents just under half of states, it says its constituents account for 55% of the U.S. population and 60% of the nation’s gross domestic product. Between 2005 and 2018, member states reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 14%, according to the group’s most recent report. The 2020 Clean Energy Report also found that at the end of 2019, Alliance states accounted for 60% of the nation’s clean energy jobs.
“Over the last four years, many governors and state leaders have stepped up to fill the leadership void at the federal level,” says Pam Kiely, senior director of regulatory strategy at Environmental Defense Fund. “The most important contribution that the states have made collectively is really shifting the bar for what constitutes climate leadership to include actual quantifiable, enforceable reductions in greenhouse gas pollution that are consistent with achieving the emission budgets that science tells us are necessary.”
In its report released in December 2019, the U.S. Climate Alliance reported that collective emissions in member states were projected to fall by 20% to 27% below 2005 levels by 2025, making its goals within reach. But despite its efforts and commitments, according to a December 2020 report from the Environmental Defense Fund, most of the states in the U.S. Climate Alliance are not on track to meet their goals by 2025 — with emissions projected to fall by about 18% — and they will need to put additional policies in place to meet them.
“As we think about the potential for continued state leadership, even as the federal government comes back to playing a leadership role on climate, the most critical thing that states can do is actually turning commitments into concrete policy action that drives down emissions,” Kiely says. “And that’s a necessity.”
Some states are taking those concrete policy steps. In March 2020, after gridlock on climate policy in the state Legislature, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed an executive order establishing ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, and directing state agencies to exercise their authority to meet climate goals. More recently, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed sweeping climate legislation aimed at achieving net zero emissions by 2050, along with establishing incremental goals along the way and appointing regulatory agencies to achieve those outcomes. Massachusetts joins 18 other states and territories in taking legislative or executive action toward 100% clean energy or carbon-neutrality goals. In Washington, two climate measures passed the state Senate: one that would set clean fuel standards for manufacturers and another to cap emissions. Both may see more action before the legislative session ends on April 25.
Even as a new administration brings fresh federal leadership on climate change, the work is not over for states.
“Our states founded the U.S. Climate Alliance in direct response to the last administration’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement,” Govs. Cuomo, Inslee and Newsom, the U.S. Climate Alliance co-chairpersons, said in a statement on Jan. 20. “The Alliance stands ready to forge a new kind of state-federal partnership — for the good of our country, our climate, our economy, and our future generations.”
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With Biden Climate Goals on Horizon, States Continue Own Efforts originally appeared on usnews.com