Trump said he would look into climate change. He needs to look no further than American cities

by Angie Fyfe | ICLEI U.S.A
Saturday, 10 December 2016 18:04 GMT

A subway car rides along the tracks towards The Trump International Hotel and Tower in downtown Chicago, Illinois, United States, April 18, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young

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As the global climate agenda forges ahead with or without the United States, cities, counties and states can do a lot to keep the country on the right path

When the news of Donald Trump's election broke, negotiators at COP22, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, Morocco, knew they had to show the world that the climate agenda would move forward even faster. After little more than a week they agreed on an earlier deadline for the definition of the implementation architecture for the Paris Agreement.

Meanwhile, groups of nations pushed forward very ambitious plans: the 48 nations in the Climate Vulnerable Forum committed to go 100 percent renewable by 2050, while some countries started setting long-term action plans to 2050.

Local and subnational leaders, businesses and civil society also pushed in the same direction, paving the way to support global climate action through their own initiatives, focusing in particular on 100 percent renewable energy targets and climate finance.

COP22 ended with a strong message of renewed commitment, not only at national level, but also among local and subnational governments and other climate stakeholders.

Now, given the uncertainty on the United States' future climate change policy, it is important that forward-thinking local leaders in the U.S. forge a path for climate action that propels the country forward, particularly at a time in which it risks becoming a climate laggard.

THE RISK OF INACTION IN THE AGE OF TRUMP

A few years ago, climate advocates coined the term "climate laggard" for governments that refused to acknowledge the reality of climate change and its substantial impacts on people and the environment - i.e. the dying out of the Great Barrier Reef and the increased violence of wildfires in Australia.

The U.S. - under a future Trump administration - is now at risk of becoming the embodiment of that label, with Trump suggesting climate change is a hoax and appointing a climate denier to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

And yet, the President-elect should at least understand the economic case for the low-carbon transition. In fact, the U.S. economy is already beginning to decouple from carbon. Between 2008 and 2016, the U.S. gross domestic product increased ten percent while carbon emissions decreased nine percent.

Moreover, swept into power on a fiscal conservative platform, Trump will no doubt appreciate how American taxpayers would benefit from the rapid phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies, currently over $20 billion a year.

Similarly, he might want to reconsider his pro-coal stance, when faced with the reality that the green economy already supports more and better-paying jobs than the fossil fuel industry, and has for years. In fact, wind, solar, and biomass generate 2.5 to 3 times as many jobs as coal, oil, and gas for every $1 million invested. 

This potential to unlock resources and create jobs is of great importance to all Americans. If tapped, it would also add to the growing global tide of climate action. Thus, it is inevitable that the President-elect will keep hearing from the leading businesses that are making a strong case for not abandoning the U.S. climate agenda, as well as from local leaders - 37 mayors recently sent him an open letter, supporting climate action as vital for a healthy nation and a strong economy.

WHAT LOCAL AND SUBNATIONAL GOVERNMENTS WILL AND CAN DO

Only time will tell if the Trump administration will maintain its negative rhetoric around climate change.

In any case, local leaders at city, county and state level have a significant responsibility to keep the U.S. on the path of climate action and low-carbon transition. Mayors in the ICLEI network know this very well and represent geographically diverse communities of all sizes.

Aspen, Colorado was the first city to go 100 percent renewable, relying on a mix of hydro, wind and landfill gas energy, and is one of the founding ICLEI Members of the 100% RE Cities & Regions Network.

Oakland, California was the first U.S. city to demonstrate its commitment by setting a target for carbon pollution reduction, presenting an inventory of emissions to the ICLEI-managed carbonn Climate Registry, identifying potential climate-related hazards, and developing climate action plans.

Miami-Dade County Florida is one of the most vulnerable areas to climate change in the country. It is actively managing its climate risks and is a member of the Resilient Communities for America (RC4A) campaign.

These are only a few of the over 200 local governments in the ICLEI U.S.A network, but their stories provide a glimpse into how local efforts can prove decisive in advancing the climate agenda in the country.

Indeed, the commitment of mayors and governors to climate action has never been stronger: as of November 2016, over 100 U.S. cities and towns are reporting to the carbonn Climate Registry, 15 percent of all global reporting entities. Out of these 100, almost 40 percent have set energy and climate targets for 2050.

There are a number of actions that local governments in the U.S. can and will implement in order to improve the lives of their citizens, foster green growth and react to the existential threat posed by climate change:

1. Keep up the good work they are already doing, and build on it with more ambitious commitments - for instance, divesting from fossil fuels and committing to 100 percent renewable energy. 

2. Advocate that the national government continue with policies that create green jobs and protect people's health and the environment. Federal money will be in any case crucial to cope with potential climate change related emergencies (i.e. Sandy-like storms, protracted droughts), but it could also be used to prevent them by building resilience in urban areas. 

3. Encourage fellow local leaders to join the movement for local climate action.

4. Keep engaging in global advocacy efforts through networks such as ICLEI, which enables them to have their voice heard on the global stage and add their weight to efforts by fellow local leaders to achieve more vertically integrated governance. Such vertical integration would increase their ability to leverage financial resources and have a place in the definition of national policies for climate change and urban sustainability.

5. Join the Global Covenant of Mayors on Climate & Energy, a wide city-led initiative - 7,100 cities from 119 countries, representing over 600 million people- that allows local governments to report, monitor and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, while also setting climate adaptation and resilience targets.

6. Build local implementation architectures with partners in the private sector, civil society and the research community. Bring together all stakeholders engaged in local climate action in order to pool their resources and expertise and meet local targets under climate plans and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

THE ROAD TO COP23

Around this time next year the annual United Nations Climate Summit, COP23, will take place in Bonn, Germany.

The road to COP23 will be the next chapter of the climate action story. ICLEI will be there, in our capacity of focal point for the Local Governments and Municipal Authorities (LGMA) official UNFCCC constituency, to bring the voice of local governments to the table, as we have always done.

We already invite all local leaders from the U.S. to join us and our members on this journey.

We also look forward for the future Trump administration, too, to join U.S. mayors and governors, showing the true climate leadership the country deserves.

Local governments in the U.S. will relentlessly keep advocating for this, but make no mistake: concrete climate action will continue to take shape in U.S. cities, counties and states, no matter where the wind blows in Washington, D.C.

This ship has sailed. There is no going back.

Angie Fyfe is Executive Director of ICLEI U.S.A.

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