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Jen Boynton headshot

Rogue U.S. Delegation Makes Huge Splash at COP23

By Jen Boynton

COP 23 has turned out to be quite the party. While the official delegation is somewhat smaller than previous groups, given President Trump's stated desire to leave the global agreement, a private American coalition is out in full force to demonstrate just how little a Federal withdrawral impacts America's ability to meet its intended nationally determined contribution.

The U.S. promised contribution to the global fight against climate change is an economy-wide target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 per cent below its 2005 level in 2025. This goal is considered to be a science-based goal, in line with 80 percent below 2005 by 2050. These goals are in spitting distance of a meaningful contribution to the collective effort to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

A huge coalition of U.S. states, cities and businesses supporting climate action is hosting the U.S. Climate Action Center pavilion separate from the official U.S. delegation. Lisa Friedman describes the alternate U.S. delegation in stark contrast to the official one:

The office of the official American delegation at the international climate talks here is almost always closed... But there’s another group of Americans who are happy to be found. They are gathered in a nearly 27,000-square-foot inflatable tent adorned with American flags and red, white and blue signs proclaiming that states, cities and businesses are “still in” the Paris agreement, despite President Trump’s vow to leave it.

The alternate American pavilion, with its free espresso truck, tins of themed M&M’s and wireless internet that tells new users “the U.S. has not gone dark on climate action,” has rapidly become a hub of activity at the United Nations global warming negotiations taking place this week.

On Saturday, this unsanctioned group launched America's Pledge, a report by California Gov. Jerry Brown and Michael Bloomberg (written by World Resources Institute and Rocky Mountain Institute) that analyzes the breadth and influence of U.S. non-federal action on climate change. In fact, the actions of those outside the federal sphere are quite substantial -- the GDP of this group is just over $10 trillion -- sitting third after China and before Japan on the global stage.

That means that in addition to all those zeroes, this group of business leaders, states and municipalities controls an enormous amount of carbon flow. And the good news is, this group is poised to curb a lot of it:

The report highlights the 10 states with cap-and-trade programs and 96 U.S. businesses that have already set internal carbon prices (linking the cost of doing business to how much carbon was expended). It also finds some major sources of carbon reductions that will continue with or without federal mandates:

  • Electricity generation: Twenty-nine states, representing more than half (56 percent) of retail electricity sales in the country, have mandatory renewables commitments in place.

  • Transportation: Thirty U.S. cities have committed $10 billion to purchase 114,000 electric vehicles (EVs) for their municipal fleets—a number roughly equivalent to all the EVs sold in the country in the first eight months of 2017.

  • Building and industrial energy use: More than 400 companies, representing more than 13 percent of total U.S. commercial building space, and almost 2,600 industrial facilities have voluntarily committed to reduce their energy use through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings / Better Plants program.

  • Methane: Methane, also known as natural gas, leaks out of landfills and contributes to global warming. Twenty states have programs set up to develop landfill gas-to-energy projects, which capture methane to use for electricity generation.

  • Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) Emissions: HFCs are up to 12,000 times more potent than CO2 and are used in refrigeration, air-conditioning, building insulation and other applications. Forty-three supermarkets have committed to reducing their HFC emissions, with 533 individual stores becoming certified under this program since 2008.

  • Land-use and forestry: More than 3,000 communities are implementing urban forestry measures through Tree City USA, including maintaining a tree board or department and having a community tree ordinance.

These are all major bright spots in a somewhat dismal story of climate change impacts and global collaboration. Of course, things would be easier if the federal government brought its $8.5 Trillion in economic activity to bear.

When you encounter a difficult problem in life, sometimes the only way out is through. The alternate U.S. delegation showcases another viable option: going around.

Jen Boynton headshot

Jen Boynton is the former Editor-in-Chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and has helped organizations including SAP, PwC and Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. She is based in San Diego, California. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA (court appointed special advocate) for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

Read more stories by Jen Boynton