The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) held a briefing on some of the outcomes of the Global Climate Action Summit, which was held in San Francisco September 12-14. The briefing showcased some of the carbon reduction actions being taken by a wide range of sub-national actors, including states, regions, cities, and companies.

The summit, the first of its kind, brought together 4,500 representatives to discuss what can be done at the regional and local levels to meet the Paris Climate Agreement goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Co-hosts included California Governor Jerry Brown, former mayor of New York and now U.N. Special Envoy for Climate Action Michael Bloomberg, and China's Special Representative for Climate Change Affairs, Xie Zhenhua, who headed a 120-strong Chinese delegation. Participants included the mayors of Beijing, Bonn, Dacca, Mexico City, Paris, and Tokyo, as well as the CEOs of Unilever, Kaiser Permanente, and Starbucks—among many others.


Dan Carol, Senior Advisor for Infrastructure and Energy, DC Office of California Governor Jerry Brown

  • Dan Carol shared three major takeaways from the Global Climate Action Summit:
    1. The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement is designed to be implemented from the bottom up, relying on changes at the sub-national level.
    2. Cuts to carbon emissions must be bigger and occur faster.
    3. The “We Are Still In” movement, comprised of thousands of organizations, private businesses, and millions of people, is determined to work toward the objectives set forth in the Paris Agreement.
  • Local governments and major companies have set ambitious goals ahead of COP24, the United Nations climate change conference that will take place in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018.
  • Carol highlighted California’s “Buy Clean” policy, which reviews suppliers’ emissions performance when sourcing materials for public works and infrastructure projects.
  • After the 2020 U.S. presidential election, whoever is in office will have 30 days from the inauguration to decide whether or not to leave the Paris Agreement.
  • Tax incentives for carbon capture, as well as Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPSs) that require energy providers to produce a certain percentage of power from renewable sources, are important existing policy tools.
  • “Innovative federalism” gives states and local governments the freedom to develop and test creative, individualized solutions that may become valuable examples for others.


H.E. Naivakarurubalavu Solo Mara, Ambassador, Embassy of Fiji [Fiji presided the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23)].

  • Governments alone cannot address the issue of climate change; private actors must be on board as well.
  • The October 8 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warns that the speed and scale of our efforts must increase in order to avoid catastrophic effects of climate change, including sea level rise and coral reef die-offs as soon as 2040. While technically possible to achieve, the necessary efforts seem politically unlikely.
  • Fiji and other island nations are on the frontlines and have formed partnerships with the World Bank and other forward-looking organizations to plan for the effects of climate change.
  • People displaced by sea level rise and other effects of climate change raise legal questions about the future of island nations and how refugee status is determined.
  • Although Fiji is responsible for a tiny share of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the nation is leading by example with a goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and 100 percent renewable energy use by 2030.
  • National governments must learn from and catch up to actions taken by local governments and private actors.
  • The costs of inaction are bigger than any political career, and our elected leaders must recognize this and act responsibly.


Elizabeth Beardsley, Senior Policy Counsel, U.S. Green Building Council

  • A major focus of the Global Climate Action Summit was on how to bring actors together to form concrete plans with clearly outlined steps to achieve emission reductions.
  • The Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE), of which the U.S. Green Building Council is a member, engaged in a discussion of electrification and building green economies with C40, a coalition of major cities across the globe that are committed to fighting climate change.
  • Private actors and sub-national groups need the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy (DOE) to operate effectively and provide data and information that can inform wise decision-making.


Anne Kelly, Senior Director, Policy and BICEP Network, Ceres

  • The summit was highly inclusive, incorporating voices from nations like Fiji that will be among the first to shoulder the burdens of climate change.
  • The “We Are Still In” movement is growing, with new partnerships forming among diverse actors and sectors.
  • Rules and regulations play an important role in spurring innovation in the private sector through codes and efficiency standards. In addition, policies must prevent the formation of monopolies, which stifle competition and innovation.


Jack Thirolf, AVP, Head of Regulatory and Institutional Affairs North America, ENEL Green Power

  • Business models are changing and the private sector now recognizes that as renewable energy sources become cheaper, the environmentally friendly choice is often also the economical choice. It is false to frame it as a choice between the two.
  • There is both an economic and a moral imperative for businesses to lower emissions and implement practices that lessen their environmental impacts.
  • Solutions will not be one-size-fits-all: they will be shaped by the specific circumstances and needs of different areas. Investment in R&D will help realize these solutions.


Tommy Wells, Director, D.C. Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE)

  • Tommy Wells emphasized the gravity of the summit, which, at its core, was about the planet’s ability to sustain us into the future.
  • In 2016, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser joined dozens of other mayors in Mexico City to affirm Washington, D.C.’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. She pledged the capital would achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
  • Mandatory policies and regulations are effective and necessary to ensure actors make meaningful changes.
  • Policies must be equitable and provide financial support and incentives to enable businesses and individuals to meet updated environmental standards.


Ben Grumbles, Secretary, Maryland Department of Environment

  • The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), established in 2009, is a nine-state, bipartisan program in the northeastern United States which uses cap-and-trade to reduce GHG emissions in the energy sector.
  • The state of Maryland is committed to working with agricultural interests to promote healthy soils and practices that sequester carbon.
  • In 2018, Maryland established the Maryland Climate Leadership Academy to equip businesses and agencies with tools for crafting meaningful initiatives that protect public health and the environment.
  • [Due to lack of time, Grumbles was unable to discuss Maryland's recent announcement that it would phase out hydrofluorocarbons, highly potent greenhouse gases, alongside other U.S. Climate Alliance members. More information can be found here].


States, regions, cities, businesses and investors are leading the charge on cutting carbon emissions. A new report released by America's Pledge at the start of the summit suggests that even without the federal government's participation, the United States is on track to cut its emissions by 17 percent by 2025 (compared to 2005 levels), which would bring us two-thirds of the way to the Obama Administration's goal of 26 percent cuts. The Trump Administration has since dropped that goal, and announced its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. But numerous U.S. states, cities, and corporations are pushing ahead regardless, and have made ambitious commitments to decarbonize their economies. California and Hawaii have gone the furthest, by mandating that 100 percent of their electricity be generated from carbon-free sources by 2045.

The Summit demonstrated a commitment to climate action by sub-national actors and sought to pressure national governments to ramp up their pledges as 2020, the formal start date of the Paris Climate Agreement, nears.

Speaker Slides