“Together, we will remain actively engaged with the international community as part of the global effort to hold warming well below 2ºC."
— “We are Still In” Declaration
It became a kind of civil war between intransigent factions, with the entire planet as its disputed territory (thankfully, however, without gunfire). That was the scene when two rival U.S. “contingents” showed up for November’s UN COP23 global climate conference in Bonn, Germany.
The first contingent, the official U.S. delegation to the conference, devoted its sole presentation to promoting coal as the primary energy source for fighting climate change. Consisting in part of coal and other fossil-fuel company executives, the small, token delegation was only in attendance only because, until our status expires in three years, the U.S. remains a signatory to the COP21 Paris Climate Accords.
The second contingent, representatives of the unofficial, nation-wide group “We Are Still In (WASI)” set up camp in a pavilion it called the “U.S. Climate Action Center,” immediately adjacent to the COP 23 meeting headquarters.
Representing 20 US states, more than 200 cities (including the 60 largest cities), 1,700 businesses (including almost half of the country’s largest companies), more than 150 colleges and universities, numerous tribes and NGOs and a million petition signers, WASI conveyed a very different message: The majority of Americans take the threat of climate change seriously, support the goals of the Paris Climate Accords, and are willing to take action to meet and strengthen those goals.
By “action” the WASI representatives meant two things: 1.) Using its keynote address (out of 40 talks given) to present official COP23 representatives with a document called America’s Pledge (Phase 1). The document bears the pledges of 2,300 U.S. organizations to reduce their emissions to the Paris Accords standards (or lower); and, 2.) reaching out to other countries to make mutual climate commitments and agreements.
The 115-page America’s Pledge document, available online, outlines steps already taken, underway or planned by non-federal actors toward decarbonization of the U.S. economy. It includes analyses of market and regulatory trends in the power, building efficiency, transportation and industry sectors; strategies to reduce hydrofluorocarbon and methane emissions; and carbon pricing and taxing initiatives. Opportunities for emissions reductions are identified in each sector, and the signatories have pledged to adopt those policies which fit their economic and emissions profiles.
For example, building codes are generally the purview of states and cities, not the federal government. California’s wildly successful building energy-efficiency standards have resulted in the reduction in energy use totaling 40 percent for dwellings and 50 percent for commercial buildings. This applies to the millions of buildings added to the state’s stock since the codes were first written in 1978.
Yet many states and cities that have signed onto America’s pledge do not yet have similar building energy standards. Adopting them offers one of many opportunities to reduce emissions without burdening economic growth — California real-estate values have remained extremely robust — irrespective of federal inaction. Solar incentives, vehicle emissions standards and public transportation initiatives offer more opportunities.
Internationally, America’s Pledge signatories, especially California, are exploring linking their carbon markets with those of the EU, China, Canada and Mexico.
Taken together, the America’s Pledge signatories have an economic power of about $10 trillion GDP, making them the third-largest “country” in the world behind the US and China. They are a force to be reckoned with as they gain international recognition and chalk up climate action credits in the U.S.
So, who won the COP23 civil war? In terms of “growing” the U.S. economy, enhancing our international status and fighting climate change, America’s Pledge signatories are raising the bar for voluntary sustainable initiatives. Going forward, it’s good to know We Are Still In at our ecological house.