“Under 2 MoU” – no it’s not Prince’s latest song, it is the initiative of subnational leaders (Mayors and Governors) committing to limit emissions below 2 metric tons per capita by 2050 which is the amount of reductions needed to limit global warming to less than 2°C. This initiative, supercharged by the leadership of Governor Jerry Brown of California, has grown to include 65 jurisdictions from 20 countries spanning 5 continents. The commitments collectively represent “more than $17.9 trillion in GDP and 588 million people. If the signatories represented a single country, it would be the largest economy in the world by GDP, surpassing the United States.” These subnational efforts can have a real and positive effect to galvanize action at COP 21. They hope to influence other leaders and national governments to follow their lead. Governor Inslee of Washington State proudly declared at the Conference: “Let me say that we rebel against the term ‘subnationals’, we think we are supernationals… we are leading the charge with super work here.”
And that work will need to continue after Paris. These subnational leaders are the ones implementing the many of the efforts to be undertaken in the Agreement. Subnational reductions represent 50% of the potential emission mitigation. These leaders are the ones in charge of directing transformative change in our daily lives in the sectors of transportation, air quality, land use, and building codes.
It was no coincidence that the panelists at the COP 21 press briefing were from the North American Pacific Coast. As Governor Inslee noted: “The West coast lives on innovation – it’s our stock and trade”. He, along with Governor Brown, Mayor Schaaf of Oakland, CA, Mayor Robertson of Vancouver and Mayor Pollak of Montreal, emphasized that Developed Country Parties must act on climate change now or it will cost trillions to fix it in the future. The world needs to stretch to reach the climate goal and local governments can push and provide example for 100% renewables and innovative ways to decrease emissions as a whole. A creative economy will find these solutions.
While some jobs in the “old” economy will be lost, there are new opportunities in the green economy to benefit global health. A green economy creates jobs. The proof lies in the example from British Columbia which put a tax on carbon in 2008. Carbon-intensive industries were able to take a staged approach and given relief as they proceeded to become green. The benefits have been seen over multiple years with emissions reductions and an increase in the economy despite the global financial crisis. The tax is revenue-neutral; it is returned in the form of tax reduction. Therefore, this is an economic stimulus! The transition to clean energy has stimulated the economy of Oakland where the Rising Sun Energy Center is training people coming out of prison and high school graduates to do energy audits and provide skills in installing solar panels and other construction work associated with green energy.
However, it is not only the developed global north who are implementing these initiatives. The second group of panelists was composed of leaders from forest-rich developing countries. The panel included; Governor Ayada of Cross River State, Nigeria; Governor Gambini of Ucayali, Peru; Governor Sandoval-Diaz of Jalisco, Mexico; and Governor Melo de Oliveira of Amazonas, Brazil. These countries must find finds ways to promote green jobs to supply their poor citizens with sustainable development and be provided with sufficient support to preserve their resources. They need to find the balance between providing a livelihood to their people and preserving the wealth of their forests. Creatively, Nigeria has seen growth in green economy. They have provided jobs for their youth as the “green police” who discourage the cutting trees and plant new ones to absorb CO2. Not only is this a means of conservation, it also combats desertification. Peru has been able to reclaim approximately 1 million hectares of degraded areas for re-forestation. Amazonas, home to millions of acres of the “lungs of the world”, is also home to both acai and camu-camu fruits which are used commercially. Investment in Amazonas’ biodiversity makes it ripe for new sustainable development.
Sustainability is key; developed countries must recognize that their forests represent the wealth of these developing areas. Engagement in a critical dialogue with regard to aid is necessary to ensure the health of the land and all the peoples of the world. As these panelists demonstrate, innovative efforts at the subnational level can lead the world to a transformative economy that keeps the environment safe.