Will You Under 2 MOU?

The subnationals are firmly in the game.  At COP19 in Warsaw, they had their orange pinnies on while stretching and sprinting on the sidelines, showing the ADP coaches that they were ready.  “Bring in the subs” was my favorite 2014 blog headline.

CuomoYesterday New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo decided that California’s Jerry Brown shouldn’t get all the playing time. Cuomo signed the Under 2 MOU, committing his state to take actions to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Under 2 MOU “brings together states and regions willing to commit to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and will galvanize action at the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in Paris this December.” Thus far, forty-three other subnational governments have signed this MoU, ranging from Canadian provinces British Columbia and Ontario to cities like Los Angeles and Nampula, Mozambique, and regional governments in Spain’s Basque Country and Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley.

What will the Empire State do after the ink dries?  Governor Cuomo announced several specific actions, some new and some that build on those already in play.  One new plan is to expand the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and link it with the Western Climate Initiative, creating a North American carbon market. Another new initiative is requiring the State University of New York (SUNY), the largest statewide public university system in the U.S., to install renewable energy in its 64 campuses by 2020. SUNY currently has 20% energy efficiency improvement and 30% GHG reduction goals for 2020.  Governor Cuomo challenged private colleges and universities to match SUNY.  Finally, in the category of adding new to old, a commitment to bring solar energy to 150,000 more homes and businesses by 2020 builds on the $1 billion of public funds invested inNY Rev New York’s solar industry in 2013 via NY SUN Initiative and the additional $270 million and solar installations in 30,000 homes and businesses since then. A new twist in this 2015 announcement is the Shared Renewables program, which allows commercial projects to share power generated on their properties with surrounding community members.

Earlier this year, as part of the 2015 State Energy Plan, New York pledged to reduce GHG emissions 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050 below 1990 levels. To do this, New York started Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), which we have blogged about.

At yesterday’s Under 2 MOU signing ceremony, Cuomo did not mince words about the need for subnational action on climate change. Failure to address the causes of climate change represents “gross negligence by government,” the Albany Times Union quotes him as saying, along with the public’s failure to hold their elected representatives responsible.  “In the case of climate change, denial is not a survival strategy.”

US-China relations post-COP19

Today’s HuffPost features an article on EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s view that China is poised for beijing air qualitya green revolution.  McCarthy sees internal pressures by the rising Chinese middle class on its political leaders to do more on environmental regulation and climate change.  She cited to the now famous example of the U.S. embassy’s air quality monitoring that led to a diplomatic brouhaha – and greater transparency from the Beijing municipal authorities.  Recent school closures and public health threat warnings due to industrial smog recall the Donora, PA killer smog that spurred the fight for the Clean Air Act.  McCarthy made these remarks on the eve of a trip to China to seek ways to work with the Chinese government on environmental regulation.

Venezuela working with the U.S.

Venezuela working with the U.S.

Post COP19/CMP9, as I think about the question most often asked of me – what was accomplished at this negotiation? – I’m struck by the interplay between multilateral and bilateral treaties in making international environmental law.  There is a long tradition of bilateral (think US-Canada Great Lakes Compact and governing Commission) and regional multilateral (think of the Rhine River treaty and its governance structure) environmental treaties that have provided very effective legal and environmental management of common natural resources.  The challenge in addressing climate change is trying to regulate a natural resource – the atmosphere – shared by every country in the world, which is being degraded in a variety of ways through multiple means of pollution.  One legal solution is the UNFCCC, which seeks an all-in approach, and the annual COPs that refine the complex inner workings of this legal compact. Post COP15 in Copenhagen, there have been repeated calls for scrapping the UNFCCC and focusing instead on getting the top 25 emitting countries who contribute some 75% of GHGs to the atmosphere to negotiate a new treaty amongst themselves.

EU working with India.

EU working with India.

But this HP article reminds me of the importance  and potential for bilateral and regional multilateral treaties to add to, not supplant, the work of the Framework Convention.   McCarthy signals the US-China work to come (and we shouldn’t lose sight of the achievements of this past summer) – all of which builds on and adds to the working relationships that are the backbone to broader UNFCCC progress toward a binding legal agreement for all 195 countries in 2020.