This week and next, international negotiators are meeting in Bonn, Germany, to begin implementing and operationalizing the Paris climate change agreement. Under the cloud of a potential U.S. withdrawal from the agreement, city, state and regional governments, as well as thousands of U.S. businesses and the majority of Americans, show that, with or without U.S. leadership at the federal level, the country will make significant headway towards meeting its emission reduction goals.
Our group at Data-Driven Yale has created an interactive map of current U.S. climate commitments made by cities, states, companies and universities, visualizing the geography of bottom-up climate action in America. An interdisciplinary group of scientists, programmers, researchers and visual designers formed Data-Driven Yale in 2015 to put data analysis in the service of policy solutions for the nation’s environmental problems. The actions by these governments, companies and schools include commitments to reduce emissions footprints through increasing renewable electricity generation, setting targets for electric vehicle adoption, and the establishment within private firms of internal prices on carbon as well as practices to offset their greenhouse gas emissions.
Data-Driven Yale’s map shows the more than 500 city and state governments that have committed to climate action, representing nearly half the U.S. population. These so-called subnational jurisdictions are joined by nearly 3,000 U.S. businesses with over $7.7 trillion in revenue and more than 700 universities with a total student population nearing 1 million and a collective endowment of more than $250 billion. Policy analysts often refer to these latter entities as non-state actors.
This groundswell of subnational and non-state action may help counter a withdrawal of federal climate leadership. On June 1, 2017, President Trump announced his intention to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Accord, doubling down on a stance that runs contrary to strong domestic support among voters in every state in the countryfor the U.S. federal government to remain part of the agreement.
The June announcement has invigorated subnational and non-state actors worldwide, who have since made new commitments and strengthened existing ones. These pledges aim to address climate change individually and in groups focused on overcoming cross-border challenges. The collaborative initiatives include the 2014 U.N. Climate Action Summit hosted by then U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon; the Compact of Mayors (now part of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy); the Compact of States and Regions; CDP Cities; C40 Cities climate leadership group; ICLEI’s carbonn Climate Registry; Second Nature's climate leadership network; the Under2 Coalition; and commitments reflected in the Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA).
A coalition of more than 2,200 states, cities, counties, businesses, universities, civil society organizations and investors has declared “We Are Still In” the Paris agreement since the coalition’s launch on June 5. California Governor Jerry Brown, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Washington Governor Jay Inslee launched after Trump’s announcement the United States Climate Alliance, a group of 14 states and Puerto Rico committed to reducing their emissions to levels consistent with the goals of the Paris agreement. Meanwhile a coalition of more than 380 Climate Mayors, led by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Houston’s Sylvester Turner, Knoxville’s Madeline Rogero, and Boston’s Marty Walsh, signed a letter pledging to leverage their coordinated efforts to deliver on the U.S.’s Paris commitment. At the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in June, more than 1,400 mayors urged continued federal participation in the Paris agreement and committed to achieving 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.
Data are compiled from WeAreStillIn, Compact of Mayors, the UNFCCC NAZCA platform, CDP Cities, Climate Mayors, Second Nature, Carbonn Cimate Registry, and the Compact of States and Regions. Climate opinion data (legend on right panel) from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.
The map includes county-level data on public perceptions of climate change, drawn from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication’s Climate Opinion Maps. The histograms on the map’s right show the distribution of national responses to questions ranging from one’s belief in global warming, to the level of concern that climate change will affect one personally.
Climate action commitments and public opinion are moving targets, and the map and its underlying analysis reveal several key insights about the current available information about non-state and subnational climate actions:
- Nearly 2,000 companies in the U.S. have set goals to reduce their emissions, ranging from 0.01 to 100 percent of their emissions. A total of 463 have committed to adopting some form of renewable energy; 828 have adopted a carbon price; 1,245 are adopting energy efficiency targets; 10 are using offsets to achieve their climate goals.
- 589 colleges and universities in total are generating 519,762,051 kilowatt hours of renewable electricity, enough to power 41,768 homes in the U.S. for a year. Some have achieved deep emissions reductions, such as College of the Atlantic in Maine, which has reduced emissions 190 percent from 2008 levels and has committed to be carbon neutral.
- At least one third of subnational actors have registered actions to reduce their emissions from 10 to 95 percent in sectors ranging from community-wide and government operations, to water, energy supply, transportation, waste, outdoor lighting, and buildings.
- At least 73 subnational actors in the U.S. are committing to using renewable energy as part of their climate pledges; 31 are issuing bonds for low-carbon projects; 28 are increasing energy efficiency as a low-carbon strategy.
- States with emissions totaling 1.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) are committed to tackling climate change. Most U.S. states have adopted both short-term (2020) and long-term (2050) reduction targets, ranging from 10 to 80 percent. California emerges as the state with the most number of cities and counties taking action, with 97. Florida is the state with the second highest number of subnational actors, with 36. States that have the fewest number of cities taking action include Alaska, Wyoming, Alabama, Kentucky and Maine, with one city each, and North and South Dakota, with no subnational participation captured by this analysis.
Similar activity also is taking place in more than 130 other countries. In a report released this week, we provide an overview of nearly 15,000 cities and businesses worldwide pledging nearly 100,000 actions. The latest “emissions gap” analysis shows the gulf between the world’s current emissions trajectory and needed reductions to keep global temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius is widening, underscoring the urgent need for additional emissions cuts. Some researchers estimate that a fraction of these subnational and non-state actions could help the U.S. achieve half of its Paris pledge, even without national climate legislation. But the picture is still incomplete and more data are needed to understand the full extent of how these actions can complement, catalyze and reinforce national pledges and help close the global emissions gap.
This post and map were produced by Data-Driven Yale members Angel Hsu, Zev Nicolai-Scanio, Ross Rauber, Yihao Xie, Amy Weinfurter, Tina Huang, Geoffrey Martin, Ryan Thomas, Sophie Janaskie, Franz Hochstrasser, Sabrina Long, Carlin Rosengarten and Algol (Ziang) Li.