U.S. withdrawal from Paris Agreement displays key role of regional governments in climate action

The recent reactions by U.S. subnational actors and the private sector to the Federal Administration‘s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement shows that climate action cannot depend on national states alone and that subnational leaders are committed to continue and further strengthen their engagement to deliver on the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The formation of the United States Climate Alliance is a strong signal that U.S. states are committed to take full responsibility on climate action and meet the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement. The alliance was announced on June 1 by the governors of California, New York and Washington State and has quickly been joined by Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia. Among these, Hawaii is the first US state to legally support the Paris Agreement by signing two laws that incorporate sections of the agreement, giving the state “legal basis to continue adaptation and mitigation strategies for Hawai‘i, despite the Federal government’s withdrawal from the treaty.”

This dedication is shared by the Climate Mayors, a network of 285 U.S. mayors working together to strengthen local efforts for GHG emission reduction and supporting for binding federal and global-level policymaking. In their statement on President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement they declared that “The world cannot wait – and neither will we.” They are aiming to intensify efforts and push for new action, continue their leadership in climate action and investment into a clean economy.

In addition, leaders from 125 cities, 9 states, 902 businesses and investors, and 183 colleges and universities from across the U.S. or with significant operations in the U.S., representing 120 million Americans and $6.2 trillion of the U.S. economy, signed the “We are Still In” climate declaration. In their open letter to the international community and parties to the Paris Agreement these leaders join forces to declare that they “will pursue ambitious climate goals, working together to take forceful action and to ensure that the U.S. remains a global leader in reducing emissions.”

This leadership and engagement, which was recently shown by regional governments and other subnational entities already was an important driver towards the development and adoption of the Paris Agreement and ensured it to be ambitious, inclusive and achievable. Not by coincidence, the Agreement’s preamble mentions promoting the mobilisation of stronger and ambitious climate action by non-Party stakeholders, including subnational authorities.

Consequently, while national governments are the ones at the negotiating table, it is often the regional and local governments that implement the agreed policies on the ground. By partnering with many different stakeholders, like businesses and local actors, regional governments are leading innovation and investing in new solutions. They often have specific responsibilities on areas of climate action that directly influence emissions reduction and adaptation efforts and are able to transmit their populations’ needs to the national level. Further, they translate national strategies to their inhabitants, thus ensuring the legitimacy of negotiation outcomes through the promotion of public acceptance, ownership and support.

In addition to their importance in the policy process, regional governments already take concrete steps on climate action, showing political leadership and transformation capacities. In the field of climate change adaptation, nrg4SD’s RegionsAdapt initiative, enables regional governments to improve the effectiveness of their efforts in climate adaptation by establishing a collaborative framework for the adoption and review of adaptation strategies and the prioritisation of concrete actions. Through the initiative, participants share knowledge and experiences, and develop joint efforts in climate change adaptation, revealing ambitious action of regional governments in developing and developed countries, such as:

  • South Australia’s region-based adaptation framework supports the development of locally relevant adaptation responses across the South Australian government regions. Various regional stakeholders have partnered with the State Government to develop regional adaptation plans and by the end of 2016, plans were in place in all 12 State Government regions;
  • The Barraginhas project of the state of Tocantins in Brazil, within which small dams are built in regions with low rainfall to collect water, so far encompasses 22 municipalities. The aim of the project is to decrease flood excess water and to recharge the groundwater table and other water sources;
  • The Quebec government in Canada has developed the 2013-2020 Government Strategy for Climate Change Adaptation, that is structured around four issues and eight strategic directions, translated into different actions. In this connection, the Ouranos Consortium helps policy-makers identify, evaluate, promote and implement national, regional and local adaptation strategies
  • Kwa Zulu-Natal in South Africa is making a great effort on sustainable use of water resources and, at the same time, increasing the resilience of its water supply towards the risk of drought through reuse of wastewater. The wastewater recycling plant treats domestic sewage to near potable standards for industrial use;
  • Following the aim of adapting agriculture to climate change, Gossas in Senegal diversified its water supply and, additionally, uses solar energy to ensure the availability of water for farmers in the region. The government also promotes bio-agriculture with compost and bio-digesters to produce biogas;
  • Using the Catalan Adaptation Index as a reference, participants in the RegionsAdapt working group on Water Resources and Management are working to develop adaptation indicators for watershed management plans; and
  • The RegionsAdapt working group on Infrastructure and Territorial Planning is working together with the GIB Foundation to improve resilience and sustainability of regional governments´ infrastructure projects through GIB´s Smartscan tool.

The “RegionsAdapt 2016 Report: An assessment of risks and actions” further shows the great commitment of regional governments in taking the lead in climate change adaptation. The report features a high number of adaptation measures taken by the 27 regional governments that disclosed their data, highlighting the determination of regional governments to tackle the adverse effects of climate change and preserve their populations’ wellbeing.

These examples testify that climate action does not only depend on national states and that, despite the loss of the U.S. national commitment, the fight against climate change goes on. This fight needs a coordinated effort with all levels of governments playing a significant role. Regional governments are committed to collaborate and cooperate with countries, cities and other regions to share responsibility and implement practical solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change, creating a better world for present and future generations.

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