Friday, June 01, 2018

Trump Walked Away from the Paris Deal, but Others Are Leaning In

Led by cities, states and businesses, “subnational” actors are making real progress to limit greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. (Credit: Lovelyday12 Via Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
As the president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund, I am increasingly asked by people I know and trust within the environmental and business communities whether these subnational actors can make a difference at the scale we need.  After all, air pollution doesn’t stop at state borders, and for every business willing to set a climate target, others may refuse to do so without regulatory pressure.

There’s truth in this critique.  There’s no substitute for federal regulation in creating consistent policies across all 50 states and market responses ― not to mention providing a foundation for collaboration with other governments.  But with the federal government absent on climate policy for the near future, cities, states, and businesses are essential for us to maintain progress.  We’ve seen evidence that such efforts can begin to shift markets and, we hope, influence the political calculus around nationwide climate action. 

Markets respond to government regulations.  And, to a lesser extent, markets respond to the signals sent by big companies.  Today, over 100 companies have science-based climate targets (plans for carbon reductions sufficient to meet the Paris agreement’s goals).  Three hundred companies have signed formal letters of intent to set these ambitious targets, and an additional 800 have reported that they will do so in the next two years.    

One reason science-based targets matter is that companies set goals not just within their own operations, responding to established guidelines, they also set goals for the source of raw materials, or supply chains, for their operations.  Supply chains are often responsible for far more emissions than a company’s direct operations.  Walmart, for example, committed to prevent a gigaton (1 billion tons) of greenhouse gas emissions from its supply chain and catalyzed corresponding commitments from over 400 companies that provide the goods they sell.  Since making this commitment, Walmart suppliers have achieved more than 20 million metric tons of avoided emissions. 

To implement their goals, companies are turning to collaborative platforms where they can learn from each other, connect with the best new ideas and partner on implementation.  For example, the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance includes companies such as Google and Mars Inc., and nongovernmental organizations such as World Wildlife Fund and the World Resources Institute.  It represents 74 companies with 67 million megawatt hours of energy demand and over $7 trillion in market capitalization working together to clean up the American electricity grid.   

And companies are just one piece of the subnational puzzle.  Since Trump’s Paris announcement, hundreds of U.S. mayors, governors, and university presidents joined over 1,700 companies to establish We Are Still In, a coalition of subnational actors committed to helping the U.S. achieve its Paris climate goals.

The political leaders who have joined this movement are already reaping benefits.  The three most popular governors in the U.S. are Republican governors participating in the U.S. Climate Alliance. 

Thanks in part to the efforts of subnational actors, U.S. emissions continued to trend downward in 2017, dropping by 25 million tons.  And we can expect even bigger results in the years ahead.  A report issued last year by the United Nations Environment Program estimates that subnational actors could contribute “a potentially significant contribution” of a few gigatons in emission reductions by 2030. 

Still, it’s clear the U.S. federal government needs to eventually re-engage to fully close the emissions gap.

Read more at Trump Walked Away from the Paris Deal, but Others Are Leaning In

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