Last year, a coalition of hundreds of U.S. cities, states, corporations and colleges pledged to do their part to uphold the terms of the Paris Agreement. Now, they are charting a course to reach that goal.
As part of a new campaign, local governments, businesses and an array of other institutions are taking concrete steps to cut carbon pollution. The We Are Taking Action campaign is making a push for coordinated and simultaneous action at the local level. In so doing, it aims to unlock an unprecedented level of action, scale that action, and hold leaders accountable for the promises they made last year.
The We Are Still In coalition is the main organizer of the campaign and will ask its entire membership to participate. We Are Still In, formed in June 2017 within 72 hours of President Trump’s announcement that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement in November 2020. Coalition members promised to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Less than a year later, it has more than doubled in size and now includes more than 2,700 organizations and individuals. At the 2017 UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, coalition members showed up in force to make clear that, while the federal government has turned its back on the international community, U.S. cities, states, and businesses are joining the rest of the world in tackling the problem.
In recent years, more and more companies are taking steps to cut carbon pollution by installing solar panels on factories, reducing emissions from their supply chains and making their operations more energy efficient, among other measures. Some have gone even further and committed to more sweeping changes. Earlier this month, Lyft pledged to buy carbon offsets for all of its rides globally, while McDonald’s recently announced that it aims to reduce its emissions by 36 percent by 2030. Both companies are among the first coalition members to take concrete steps to cut carbon pollution as part of the We Are Taking Action campaign. Other members are expected to step forward in the coming weeks. Participation is also open to non-members as well.
The campaign is designed to encourage both broader participation and heightened ambition, with a recognition that not every town, county or small business can go from zero to 60 immediately. Coalition leaders are urging members to move from park to 5 mph, 15 mph or 30 mph — as fast as they can go. The goal is to make climate action accessible and to move as many cars off the shoulder and to keep others from shifting into reverse. The campaign also aims to get as many members as possible cruising at 60 mph.
Every member is encouraged to do what they can to cut pollution and foster collaboration. For example, colleges are encouraged to reduce their own carbon footprint as well as host workshops and other gatherings of climate leaders. Businesses are encouraged to run their operations on 100 percent renewable energy or adopt a company-wide price on carbon. Cultural institutions like museums and zoos can choose to produce less trash, adopt LED lighting or adopt 100 percent renewable energy plans. The intention is to encourage members already taking climate action to be more ambitious and, at the same time, give newcomers an easy way to get involved. If successful, the campaign will both increase ambition and broaden participation.
Since President Trump announced his intent to exit the Paris Agreement, the international community has looked to U.S. cities, states, businesses and universities to take the lead, and Americans are stepping up.
“If the effects of wildfires and winter storms on local businesses and Oregon’s economy are any indication, we cannot stop our efforts to combat climate change,” said Oregon Governor Kate Brown.” Despite the decision by the White House to retreat, states, cities and businesses across the nation remain committed to moving forward and pursuing innovative strategies that meaningfully reduce carbon emissions and support a thriving economy of the future.”
As part of its campaign launch, We Are Still In also unveiled the formation of its Leaders’ Circle, which includes representatives from each sector participating in the coalition. Recruits to the Leaders’ Circle have all already set ambitious targets or will be among the first contributors to the We Are Taking Action campaign.
This is a risky experiment. A bottom-up coalition without a formal means for enforcement is subject to the same challenges as the Paris Agreement itself. And those challenges have been significant, with some major polluters falling short of their goals. But, the We Are Taking Action campaign is cause for optimism, as it calls on members to take specific steps to hit their targets. If successful, it could encourage a wave of new climate action.
Allison Fajans-Turner writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, politics, art and culture. You can follow her @Afajans.