All Climate Politics Is Local

After Trump's Paris Withdrawal, Subnational Groups Have Stepped Up

Mayor of Bonn Ashok-Alexander Sridharan, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and COP 23 President Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama of Fiji attend the COP23 UN Climate Change Conference, in Bonn, Germany, November 2017. Wolfgang Rattay / REUTERS

President Donald Trump’s announcement of the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris agreement on climate change last summer triggered an important public debate. Although many lamented the move as a major climate setback, others disagreed and called for calm, on the theory that if U.S. cities, states, and businesses continued to reduce their emissions the United States could still meet its carbon reduction commitments, even without backing from Washington. Sure enough, thousands of municipalities, companies, universities, and civil society groups reaffirmed their support for the Paris agreement in the wake of Trump’s announcement, and many set their own climate goals.

The Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco earlier this month put this debate over the significance of local and private-sector climate initiatives back in the spotlight. The summit was a platform for dozens of new announcements and pledges from municipal, state, and business leaders, including plans for zero-waste cities and zero-emissions buildings. Yet skeptics will ask: Are these pledges significant? Will they lead to significant emissions reductions that counteract some of the inaction by national governments, including the Trump administration’s series of environmental rollbacks?

We, along with co-authors from NewClimate Institute and PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, set out to answer these questions in a new report launched prior to the summit. We examined close to 6,000 individual city and region pledges and more than 2,000 business commitments from ten of the world’s highest-emitting regions, as well as 21 collective pledges (often referred to as international cooperation initiatives) made by a mix of private sector, civil society, city, regional, and national government participants. We found that these pledges, if realized, would deliver significant carbon mitigation on a global scale.

Combined, the individual commitments would mitigate an additional 1.5 to 2.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent—an amount roughly double Canada’s annual emissions—above what national policies alone would achieve by 2030. When cities, regions, and companies act together alongside national governments in international cooperation initiatives, the potential impact is much

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