Over the course of two eventful days, state, territory and city governments, businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals gathered in San Francisco, CA to show their dedication to climate action by pledging to lower global emissions by 2020. Despite the lack of federal support from the United States, the results of the Global Climate Action Summit speak for themselves: leaders from around the world joined together to reinforce the climate commitments made in the 2015 Paris Agreements. States and major corporations have made bold plans to rely on 100 percent renewable energy sources in the near future. Mayors across the United States are promising to divest billions from fossil fuel investments.
All in all, over 12,500 commitments were made to combat climate change. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy addressed spectators, stating, “We have to shatter the myth that climate action and the economy are in conflict. Climate action means jobs, better health outcomes, and a better way of life.” Listed are some of the more notable pledges, as well as some you may have missed:
- Around 400 international companies and municipalities have set 100 percent clean energy goals
- More than 3.5 million additional electric-vehicle charging points will be installed by 2025 in the United States
- 26 states, cities, and regions set dates for fully zero-emission vehicle fleets, while 23 multinational companies, including many of IKEA’s home delivery trucks in metropolitan areas, will transition to electric vehicles in the next decade
- Kaiser Permanente announced plans to go carbon neutral by 2020, constructing its own wind and solar energy facilities and one of the country’s largest battery storage structures
- 488 companies have set science-based emissions reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement
- 70 large cities around the world, including Los Angeles and Tokyo, have committed to becoming completely carbon-neutral by 2050
- Under the Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Challenge, 16 states plus Mexico and Canada aim to lower short-lived greenhouse gas emissions, such as methane, by 40-50 percent by 2030
- California, New York, Maryland and Connecticut will begin phasing out Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
- The Global Environment Facility, a foundation established during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, announced $500 million in funding to support sustainable land use and forest conservation
- Wal-Mart is advancing its year old climate initiative, Project Gigaton, by ridding its supply chains of harmful deforestation practices in palm oil forests
- Cities4Forests launched their new proposal, collecting 45 signatures from cities around the world looking to integrate more green areas and forests in their urban areas
- Through Pacific Coast Collaborative, a government organization dedicated to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, a number of states and cities on the United States’ West Coast committed to reduce food loss and waste by 50 percent by 2030
- “Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy Initiative” will provide $15 million in pro-bono legal services for climate-related cases, as part of a grant from the state of California
- 19 cities across the world made a net-zero carbon pledge for all newly constructed buildings by 2030
- We Are Still In campaign has collected 3,541 signatures, representing 169 million people, vowing to uphold the Paris Agreement
- California has become the first state to enforce emissions standards for ride-sharing fleets such as Uber
- The North Face has launched a clothing line made with “Climate Beneficial Wool,” said to remove the equivalent of 800 passenger cars worth of carbon in one year
So far, more than $32 trillion in investment money has been confirmed for climate change mitigation efforts as a result of the climate summit. The momentum has faltered yet: after the event, 29 philanthropic groups announced a combined donation of almost $4 billion toward climate research and relief. But to some, one question still remains: will the summit really drive climate action or was this simply all talk?
The heavy skepticism surrounding the summit is due largely to the lack of follow-through after the Paris Agreements. The conference yielded 197 signatures from nations who agreed to keep the global average temperature rise to “well below 2°C above pre industrial levels.” While general ambitions were high succeeding the talks, the results thus far have been disheartening. Current global emissions trends put us around 3-4°C warming by the next century. On top of the current U.S. administration threatening to pull out of the agreement as soon as the treaty allows, many countries have gone back and forth on whether the targets and goals are too strict, or not strict enough.
Speculation aside, the California climate summit incited engagement from all sectors and has inspired those previously unaffiliated with the movement to reconsider their carbon footprint: Even Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. are jumping on the trend, recently announcing their membership in the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI).Whether or not the summit will deliver on its numerous claims remains to be seen.
Above all else, the Global Action Climate Summit has encouraged local leadership to fight climate change. The summit acted as platform for the United States Climate Alliance members, spearheaded by California Gov. Jerry Brown, to show to the world that they will continue to pursue a strategic action plan to combat climate change. Comprised of 14 democratic governors, with the addition of Puerto Rico, and 3 republican governors, this bipartisan association believes that with their combined force, and with help from cities and states, rigorous climate goals can be achieved. Together, these states represent half of the total U.S. GDP and would in theory form the world’s third-largest economy.
The climate summit has inspired regional interest in climate issues throughout the United States. More large corporations are reevaluating harmful industry practices and choosing to hold themselves accountable for their environmental impact ─ despite the Trump administration's dismantling of pollution laws ─ and states have found themselves more invested in grid modernization. As climate resilience becomes the norm, more and more states will feel the pressure to comply. But even with the major commitments of these 17 states and territories, the combined efforts would only reach about two-thirds of the initial U.S. Paris Agreement goals.
United States per capita emissions are still among the highest in the world, and with the effects of climate change becoming dramatically apparent this year with record breaking wildfires and torrential flooding, the importance of far-reaching legislation has never been greater. In order to meet our goals and put a significant dent in global greenhouse gas emissions, mayors and governors need federal support. Additional funding into government research and development on climate change is necessary, including climate security programs led by the Department of Defense. Congress should work to protect stringent emissions standards for vehicles and corporations in order to keep emissions low. With the introduction of a carbon-tax or cap and trade program, market-based solutions would further encourage the decoupling of carbon emissions and economic growth. States have committed to fighting climate change, but national leaders have the power to mobilize climate action.
Author: Meryl McBroom
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- “U.S. on Track to Meet Some Paris Climate Goals, Report Say,” Bloomberg