Sustainability Reads October 30- November 12

World leaders are in Bonn, Germany for the UN climate talks (COP 23), where various developments are unfolding including a Paris Agreement commitment from Syria. Although this leaves the U.S. as the only country still not on board with the agreement and the official U.S. delegation is focused on fossil fuels and nuclear energy, sub-national actors (e.g., cities, states, universities, and businesses) are present and illustrating their commitment, such as through the “We are Still In” and America’s Pledge initiatives. The elections that took place on November 7th in the U.S. also illustrate progress being made on climate change.

America’s Pledge project report

America’s Pledge project, which is co-chaired by California Governor Jerry Brown and Michael Bloomberg, just released their first report illustrating how sub-national actors and the public are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the Paris Agreement. Here are the key takeaways from the report and a map showing committed actors as of October 1, 2017:

1.Despite federal efforts to roll back policies and programs, climate action is robust and accelerating across an increasing swath of America. States, cities, and businesses constituting more than half of the U.S. economy have mobilized behind the U.S. pledge under the Paris Agreement. If these institutions were a separate country, they would make up the third largest economy in the world, larger than Japan or Germany.

2. An even larger subset of American states, cities, and businesses are taking concrete actions that reduce GHG emissions. They are embracing zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), building efficiency upgrades, renewable energy generation, and a host of other low-carbon technologies. The potential effect of increasing the reach and ambition of these non-federal climate actions has not been adequately analyzed and taken into account in the Paris Agreement framework.

3. The low-carbon transition is taking off in several key sectors. Cleaner energy and electric transportation are emerging as not just emissions leaders, but cost leaders, as well. The cost of solar power and vehicle batteries have both dropped by about 80 percent since 2010. In August 2017, the Department of Energy announced that its “SunShot” target—to make solar power cost effective with conventional forms of energy—had been met three years early. Similarly, ZEVs are widely anticipated to be less expensive than conventional vehicles in the coming years.

4. Falling clean technology prices, emerging innovations, and actions by states, cities, and businesses have helped reduce U.S. net greenhouse gas emissions by 11.5 percent between 2005 and 2015, while the economy grew by 15 percent over that period. In the U.S., decarbonization and GDP growth can go hand in hand.

5. Given the stated policies of the present U.S. administration, currently committed non-federal efforts are not sufficient to meet the U.S. commitment under the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions 26- 28 percent below 2005 levels. Over the next year, the America’s Pledge initiative will analyze the potential range of incremental, not yet committed, actions by states, cities, and businesses, and compare that potential against this 26-28 percent short-term goal for 2025. But we [America’s Pledge initiative] cannot underscore strongly enough the critical nature of federal engagement to achieve the deep decarbonization goals the U.S. must undertake after 2025.

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Tuesday’s elections brought coast-to-coast victories for U.S. climate action

As summarized by Grist, the elections last week support U.S. climate change efforts. Many climate-friendly mayors were elected including in New York City, Boston, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Charlotte, St. Petersburg, St. Paul, and Seattle. Miami voters also passed a $200 million bond issue aimed at preparing the city for sea-level rise and Denver passed a green roof initiative, which would mandate either solar panels or gardens on top of every new large building. There were also note-worthy developments at the state level:

  • New Jersey. Governor-elect Phil Murphy, a Democrat, campaigned on a climate-friendly platform that included a pledge to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the largest market-based carbon-trading platform in the country. (Outgoing Governor Chris Christie withdrew Jersey from RGGI in 2011.) Murphy also wants to make Jersey the second state in the country, after Hawaii, to commit to a path to 100-percent renewable energy.
  • Virginia. Newly-elected Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, is expected to push for his state to join RGGI.
  • Washington. A special election for a state Senate seat tipped the balance of power to allow Governor Jay Inslee to pursue his pro-climate agenda.

Tip of the Week: Look into what your city, state, and/or favorite companies are doing to address climate change. If they aren’t committed, ask why!

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