Bring in the subs

As Lindsay chronicled here and here, COP19 officially acknowledged the importance of climate change mitigation and adaptation activity at the subnational level.  Even though the UNFCCC is premised on negotiation between nations (state parties), all involved recognize the groundswell of climate change laws and projects at the city and regional levels, where the rubber literally meets the road.  The stats of C40, asubs coming in consortium of the 40 largest cities in the world, pack a punch:  8% of the world’s population, 5% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 21% of the global GDP.  No second string players here, and tremendous potential for actual change, if there really is no I in team.

Looking ahead to the legally binding agreement that will take the Kyoto Protocol’s place, the COP19 ADP decision and conclusions consciously include cities and other subnational governments to participate in upcoming ADP-sponsored technical meetings and forums to share mitigation and adaptation best practices culled from their work to date.

pacific coast action planGiven this international spotlight on local climate change work, a couple of recent publications emphasizing subnational climate change activity in the U.S. merit a closer look.  In VLS’s Top Ten Environmental Watchlist, my colleague Hillary Hoffmann analyzes the Pacific Coast Action Plan as a possible “blueprint for locally driven climate and energy policy.”  By signing it, the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington, and the premier of British Columbia agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote clean energy incentives along the Pacific Coast – and bypassed their respective federal legislatures!  As Washington Governor Jay Inslee summed up subnational pride and can-do attitude, “on the West Coast, we intend to design the future, not to wreck it.”

Together, California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia have a population of 53 million and a GDP of $2.8 trillion, making it the world’s fifth largest economy.  Given how their economies are regionally linked, the Action Plan’s signatories agreed to1) link carbon-pricing programs for “consistency and predictability;” 2) “harmonize 2050 targets for greenhouse gas reductions;” 3) ground all policies in the “scientific understanding of climate change;” 4) “adopt low-carbon fuel standards in each jurisdiction;” 5) have 10% of all “new public and private vehicle purchases” be electric by 2016; 6) support high-speed passenger rail service throughout the region; 7) support “emerging markets and innovation for alternative fuels;” 8) streamline “renewable energy infrastructure;” 9)“integrate the region’s electricity grids;” and 10) work together to “press for an international agreement on climate change in 2015.”

Hmmm, a bunch of leaders sitting in a room amidst their jurisdictions’ flags, negotiating mitigation targets, science-based standards, consistent carbon accounting rules . . . sound familiar, n’est-ce pas?

NYC high lineKudos to the Left Coast. So what’s happening on the Atlantic?  A recent article in the German newspaper, Der Spiegel, tells “a tale of two cities,” New York, NY and New Bern, NC, to emphasize how differently two East Coast cities are responding to climate change predictions in their urban planning.  In New York City, where the NY City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC) predicts that storms like Superstorm Sandy will occur every two years by 2100 and almost a million people will be living in flood-prone areas by 2050, Mayor Bloomberg launched PlaNYC. Its goal: reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2030. How?  By renovating skyscrapers to use less energy, increasing green space, and improving walkability and bikeability. Der Spiegel notes that the city has already planted 800,000 new trees, made Times Square a pedestrian zone,  and constructed over 600 miles of bike paths, resulting in a 16% reduction in CO2 emissions since 2005.  On the adaptation front, flood wall construction is in the mix, along with other beach and land erosion techniques.

In contrast, when the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) issued a report predicting a sea-level rise of more than one meter and the NC Department of Public Safety determined that this rise would cost $7.4 billion to rebuild homes, office buildings, and public facilities wiped out by storm surges, the state legislature responded:  with a law that says that the sea level off the North Carolina coast will not rise more quickly than it has in the last 100 years. Period.  Thus urban planners, like those in New Bern, are instructed to disregard the CRC’s science-based advice, because North Carolina legislators forbid the seas to rise.

Maybe they recommend flood insurance, just in case?  (Read here to learn more about recent federal attempts to reform the National Flood Insurance Program.)

Stay tuned.  It will be interesting to watch how these subs change the state of play as they enter the international arena — and challenge some starter spots.


UPDATE:  The NYT 12/15 reports that as he prepares to leave office, Mayor Bloomberg is creating a consulting group to “reshape cities around the globe” staffed by many of his top NYC employees.  This development alone will fuel significant subnational activity at next year’s ADP negotiations.