Creating political will to tackle climate change

Evidence that the low-carbon economy is booming is all around us. Wind and solar energy are the fastest growing renewable electricity technologies worldwide, while green bonds issuance soared to almost $14 billion in 2013.

When one in every 142 US jobs last year was in the solar industry and the UK’s green markets are growing faster than the rest of its economy, and emerging economies chose to increase their clean energy investment by 15 per cent in 2013, there can be little doubting the economic power of the alternative.

City street lighting2

Next year world leaders will meet in Paris to agree a global climate deal. The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) 2015 Conference of the Parties has enormous potential to deliver a charter for cohesive and collaborative action on climate change, but it is contingent on the political will of government leaders. Without precedent at the domestic level, the scope of a bold global deal is dramatically reduced.

A landmark study by Globe International in partnership with the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute found that 62 countries have flagship climate change legislation, which they define as a “piece of legislation or regulation with equivalent status that serves as a comprehensive, unifying basis for climate change policy”.

There is enormous potential to deliver a charter for cohesive and collaborative action on climate change, but it is contingent on the political will of government leaders

These are the countries that will be driving the international climate consensus in 2015 and beyond. The question now is how to mobilise other leaders to take a seat at the table.

At The Climate Group, we believe the answer lies partly within nation-state borders, with the sub-national governments that are disrupting the high-carbon status quo. This is because it is widely recognised that regional political actors can be powerful catalysts for change, both within their own jurisdictions and, equally if not more importantly, by creating transnational partnerships that demonstrate the scope for international collaboration.

The United Nations Development Programme has calculated that 50 to 80 per cent of the actions needed for the implementation of an international climate act can be delivered at the sub-national level of government.

States, regions and cities often command significant levels of autonomy in power generation, supply and distribution of electricity, the regulation of the built environment, waste management, transport and land‐use planning, which means they have a unique opportunity to tackle emissions in a direct and effective manner.

Liverpool Street

For evidence of this, look no further than the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Showcase Communities Program. The EPA estimates that by next year, through working with 50 sub-national communities, annual savings will reach $19,000,000, while greenhouse gas emissions will be cut by 350,000 MtCo2 per year.

However, to view states and regions as mere implementers of international targets is to wilfully ignore the immense scope these actors have to shape global action on climate.

By sharing feedback on successes and failures, feasibility and costs, sub-national leaders are writing a template which can be used far beyond their regional boundaries. Their experiences of the gains of the low-carbon economy offer national governments valuable insight, which can also be showcased during the international debate.

In order to advocate for action on climate, political leaders want a guarantee that comprehensive climate policies can be implemented in tandem with strong economic growth. National governments need to know that tackling emissions is an investment which will not jeopardise their position in the global market. This is why sub-national activity is crucial.

For example, the governments of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Scotland all assert that their investment in the clean economy enabled them to weather the recent recession better than their peers and to grow more quickly afterwards. Likewise, Gujarat, the fastest growing of Indian states is also the one that has the strongest investment in solar power.

Solar panel installation

These states and regions are demonstrating how an effective climate policy can actually drive economic growth. It is successes like theirs which are providing the political fuel to introduce binding national targets and global climate action plans.

Currently The Climate Group is working with more than 60 governments worldwide, which brings our network’s entire population to 429 million people. Our States and Regions Alliance members exemplify what is possible when ambition and commitment combine. Through meaningful actions, these governments have re-energised the dialogue on climate action.

In 2006, California brought the AB32 Bill into law, the first piece of major government legislation to cut carbon emissions and tackle the rise in temperature. In Québec, through the Electric Vehicle Action Plan, which aims to electrify individual and collective transportation all over its territory, the provincial government is tackling the 43.5 per cent of its emissions which come from transport.

Electric Vehicles

Similarly, the Scottish executive has steadily increased its share of renewable energy and is now set to build the third largest offshore wind farm in the world. In 2000, around 12 per cent of Scotland’s electricity came from renewables, but today their contribution stands at more than a third, with a 2020 target of 100 per cent renewable energy.

International relations scholar Kenneth Waltz once observed that “the sovereignty of states had never entailed their insulation from the effects of other states’ action”. Looking to Paris 2015, let us hope that national governments recognise and replicate the actions of these pioneering regions.

The Clean Revolution is truly underway. The time is now for real leadership and innovation for the design and implementation of the post-2020 international framework, to secure a low-carbon future for all.

Mark Kenber is CEO of The Climate Group. As an expert on climate policy, Mark has directed groundbreaking projects with the international finance, energy, technology and aviation sectors. He co-founded the Verified Carbon Standard and is a former adviser to Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The Climate Group is celebrating its tenth anniversary on April 28 by hosting a forum in London themed Low Carbon Growth and Opportunity: Paris and Beyond. Readers can join the live webcast by logging on to at 2.30pm or follow the action on social media with #CleanRevolution

© Images courtesy of The Climate Group and Jiri Rezac.