You could be forgiven for hearing about last week’s Climate Summit of the Americas in Toronto and assuming it was just another policy meeting. And if you did, you’d be forgiven – but you’d also be mistaken. Because with heads of cities and states up and down the Western Hemisphere showing up in Toronto to talk about practical solutions to climate change and how they could work together to turn local success into regional success and regional success into global success, what came out was insight into a radical new approach to climate action with real promise.
— The Climate Group (@ClimateGroup) July 8, 2015
This year, Climate Reality – and the climate community worldwide – is focusing most of our efforts on building support for a strong global agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions at the UN’s climate talks in Paris beginning in November. But while this agreement would represent a huge step forward, international action isn’t the only game in town.
For one, national governments have a habit of getting bogged down in debate and derailed by competing interests or swayed by big-money constituencies (check out the Union of Concerned Scientists’ report on the millions spent by the fossil fuel industry as just one example). For another, forward-looking heads of cities, states, and provinces have a lot more freedom to introduce ambitious measures to limit emissions and expand renewables.
The record shows that they’re making it work and making real progress. Witness Ontario’s successful efforts to phase out coal power in the province. Or British Columbia introducing the first significant carbon tax in North America back in 2008. And that’s just in Canada.
— Environment Ontario (@environmentont) July 9, 2015
The summit gave mayors, governors, premiers, and commissioners from Canada to Brazil a forum to link these regional efforts – the official term is “infra-national” – in an international system that enables cities, states, and others to learn from each other, share resources, set joint goals, and – most importantly – work together to amplify the impact each is making. To do so, attendees signed an agreement committing them to:
- Set greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets in line with the target of keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees C
- Report their commitments through international platforms like the Compact of States and Regions or the Compact of Mayors
- Join the Under2MoU, an innovative initiative to link up infra-national governments’ commitments and actions
- Support carbon pricing in their jurisdictions
Why It Matters
Have you ever been in a hurry to get somewhere important, only to get stuck on a one-lane road behind a huge bus just lumbering along? Remember the frustration – and then (hopefully) the joy you felt when another lane opened up and you could finally zoom past? That’s more or less what happened at the Climate Summit of the Americas with cities and other jurisdictions refusing to wait for national governments to get serious about climate action and moving ahead with their own solutions.
In the meantime, jurisdictions like California, Vermont, Quebec, Pará and others are showing their slower-moving national leaders the way. Or, as Jerry Brown, governor of California – which happens to be the world’s seventh largest economy – put it at the summit, “Get on board, let’s get going. Let’s work together and make a world that really will work for all of us.”
— Clean Prosperity (@CleanProsperity) July 11, 2015
What was striking about the summit wasn’t only the commitment to a new kind of international cooperation from these leaders, but also how many saw action to address climate change not only as a moral imperative, but also as an economic opportunity for their jurisdiction.
And for good reason. After setting strong standards in areas like carbon emissions, fuel economy, and renewable energy, California has seen an incredible influx of capital and brain power as top engineers and scientists flock to a state known as a hotbed of innovation. British Columbia, meanwhile, saw its taxable fuel use drop 19 percent from the rest of Canada while its economy outperformed many other provinces. And the benefits are going far beyond just the investor class. As former US Vice President Al Gore noted at the summit, “All of the things that save money, increase efficiency, reduce emissions – they provide jobs, lots of jobs. This is not just an ideological assertion; many of you have already seen it happen.”
What’s the Takeaway?
If you’re looking for evidence that – even with the climate deniers in the US Congress and capitals around the world determined to look past the facts just outside their windows – a global shift is underway and momentum for real action to stop climate change is building at every level, just look at what happened at the Climate Summit of the Americas. Commitments to pricing carbon, reducing emissions, and international cooperation from some very powerful players? That’s a model we can get behind – and for nations to follow in Paris.
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