Governors, mayors and CEOs are clamoring to sign onto a slate of new climate pacts organized over the weekend after President Trump announced he would leave the Paris Agreement.
Twelve states, including two with Republican governors, are joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, launched by California, New York and Washington. A different coalition of nine states, 125 cities, and hundreds of businesses and universities signed an open letter that declared “we are still in” the international deal (E&E News PM, June 5). The Mayors’ National Climate Action Agenda, a group aligned on actions to limit warming, more than tripled its membership.
Trump’s move is galvanizing climate action and energizing states, localities and companies. Organizers say their success at gathering signatures shows that strong climate leadership will continue in the United States, although they acknowledge that they’re still figuring out how to work together to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
“[The Climate Alliance] is only five days old, including a couple business days,” said Sam Ricketts, director of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s (D) office. “The initial outpouring here is this incredible momentum; the U.S. is not done taking action and living up to its moral and international obligations in fighting climate change.”
So far, the group has attracted Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia, in addition to the initial three states.
The various efforts give climate advocates something to point to when they argue that the United States will continue to curb emissions as federal action diminishes.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the U.N. secretary-general’s special envoy for cities and climate change, yesterday offered the “We Are Still In” letter as proof of America’s commitment, according to Reuters.
The next steps will be more difficult. Setting specific goals, asking for quantifiable carbon cuts and laying out ways to track progress have proved trying, according to Angel Hsu, director of Yale University’s Data-Driven Environmental Solutions Group.
Hsu and her colleagues reported in Nature Climate Change in 2015 that just five of 29 action plans signed at a summit the year before in New York can even be tracked (Climatewire, May 22, 2015).
Leaders in this new wave of action will need to “put their money where their mouths are,” she said.
People will have to pressure elected officials and businesses to follow through, “not just put their name on a petition or list with others supporting, but get specific,” she added.
Despite a tough road ahead, longtime observers of climate action groups say the “We Are Still In” letter is unprecedented.
“It’s a platform that we’ve never really seen before that’s come together in record time to show that subnational groups across this country want to continue to demonstrate climate leadership in the absence of federal leadership,” said Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center. “We’re still in, we’re still at the table in our own way.”
For businesses, it meant working overtime to get approval to join.
“It was a weekend filled with conference calls at all hours of the night,” said Anne Kelly, senior policy director for the business group Ceres. “Calling people on vacation, sending it up the chain, and they had to make it a priority ... with all the other things they are confronting — tax, immigration, health care, a whole lot of other issues.”
More than 900 companies, big and small, signed the letter.
Kelly said it’s a big deal for them to join an effort with governors and mayors. Because the letter is so public, “it makes it that much more difficult to back down,” she said.
“This goes way beyond saying, ’Of course we believe in climate change and humans are causing it and we’ve got to do something about it,’” she added. Many of the businesses already have specific greenhouse gas and renewable power targets, for example.
Companies and state and local officials had until 1 p.m. yesterday to fill out an online form to participate. An FAQ explained that the letter is meant to “clearly communicate to the administration and the international community that subnational leaders in the United States are still committed to ambitious action on climate change.”
It added that the statement is the broadest cross-section of subnational and nonstate actors ever assembled but noted that the letter doesn’t commit organizations to any specific action.
The businesses that signed onto the letter are from 47 states. The U.S. Climate Alliance, on the other hand, represents states that produce about 18 percent of energy-related carbon emissions,noted Climate Central. Two of the participating states have Republican governors, but all of them voted for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
GOP governor has critics
Mayors are also reasserting their roles in curbing climate change. The Mayors’ National Climate Action Agenda, or Climate Mayors for short, saw its membership triple after Trump’s announcement Thursday.
It now has 210 members, up from 61, said Matt Petersen, chief sustainability officer for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D), who helped launch the group in 2014. Climate Mayors’ Twitter followers also increased to nearly 5,200 from 700 last week.
“It’s really a true coalition of mayors who are speaking up and stepping up,” Petersen said in a phone interview from Beijing, where he is representing Garcetti as California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) promotes action on climate change and clean energy.
Climate Mayors is sending a message that the United States will do its part, even without the president, Petersen said.
“Mayors we’ve seen can do a lot and will do a lot,” he said. “From the political will to the substantive action, it’s really meaningful, and it adds up.”
Mayors can promote energy efficiency in buildings, install renewable energy, encourage conservation, and work with businesses and universities.
Some mayors have been working on a joint program to convert their transportation fleets to electric vehicles. They’ve asked automakers to detail how many electric vehicles they can provide, how soon and at what cost. The mayors said they could provide a “record-breaking” order of EVs. Petersen said that effort might expand with the surge in membership.
Many of the cities that are part of Climate Mayors have also joined the “We Are Still In” coalition.
Some are already hearing from skeptics, though. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D) yesterday got some flak when he tweeted about signing.
“Oh you’re so tough. Give me a break! You don’t have a clue about what that means or what you are committing to. Vote pandering won’t help,” one Twitter user responded.
“I hope you have some concrete plans and incentives lined up,” said another.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) heard mixed feedback after joining the Climate Alliance of governors. Several dozen people issued thanks, but one tweeted, “That loud flushing noise you hear is the economy of Massachusetts going down the toilet."
Reporter Benjamin Storrow contributed.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.