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At COP23 climate talks, U.S. cities making impact

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How U.S. “sub-national” actors plan to play a role in cutting emissions

US Senator Ben Cardin speaks at the US climate action center on November 11, 2017 during the COP23 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany.
Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images

Politicians, business leaders, and activists from around the world are currently meeting in Bonn, Germany, for the COP23 United Nations climate talks, which run from November 6 to 17. Since the United States federal government officially announced that it was pulling out of the Paris climate accord, various coalitions of U.S. cities, states, businesses, and other organizations have joined together to pledge their efforts to help the U.S. meet its treaty obligations.

This international gathering, the first since Trump pulled out of the agreement, has shone a spotlight on the changing stance of the United States—an official government sponsored event promoting “clean” fossil fuels was met with protests and derision—and the progress of other groups trying to keep the country on track to meet its pledge, some of whom set up their own pavilion to promote American environmental efforts.

Here are the important events and news from the conference, as it pertains to U.S. cities, and how they’re participating in international efforts, despite the lack of action from the Trump administration. We’ll be updating this throughout the conference.

Non-state actors pledged to maintain the U.S. pledge in the Paris Accord carry significant economic weight.

America’s Pledge releases report on measuring current U.S. contributions

Immediately after the U.S. officially withdrew its participation in the Paris Accords, various coalitions of subnational actors—cities, states, businesses, and colleges—said they’ll continue to work to reduce emissions and stay in line with the Paris Agreement. One of the big challenges of advancing these efforts has been keeping track of this unofficial participation.

On Saturday, the group America’s Pledge, co-chaired by California governor Jerry Brown and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, released the group’s Phase One report, which outlined the scope of current climate actions and potential areas of action for members of this coalition, which represent more than 2,300 states, tribal nations, counties, cities, businesses, nonprofits, universities, and colleges.

It can be hard to keep track of all the groups participating, including Under2 Coalition for states, cities, and regions, the Global Covenant of Mayors for cities, We Mean Business for companies, the U.S. Climate Mayors, the U.S. Climate Alliance, as well as We Are Still In. But according to the report, if all the U.S. actors participating are taken as a whole, they represent a combined GDP larger than 195 out of 197 Parties to the Framework Convention (including both Germany and Japan).

In addition to creating a framework for measuring and compiling participation and impact, the report also reiterated the key roles cities and states are playing in this effort. As of October 1 of this year, 20 U.S. states and 110 cities have enacted quantified emission-reduction targets. It’s bolstering efforts by cities globally to help cut emissions. According to a report released by the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, existing pledges by cities alone could reduce annual CO2 emissions by 1.3 billion tons by 2030.

The next America’s Pledge report will go into more detail on specific policy proposals, especially around electric vehicle adoption, renewable energy adoption, and improving building energy performance, and outline a path towards meeting U.S. goals. But in the meantime, it appears that these nascent groups, what Governor Brown calls a “Grand Coalition,” do carry enough weight to make a significant difference.

Cities, states, businesses and other members of U.S. climate coalitions also represent a significant portion of U.S. emissions

Virginia joins Under2 Coalition, and U.S. cities pledge to be net-zero by 2050

At both the state and local level, U.S. politicians made a few big pledges. Virginia just became the 11th state to join the Under2 Coalition, along with California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York State, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, and will work with them to promote more sustainable policies.

In addition, Austin, Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, and Portland promised to become emission net-zero by 2050, part of a group of 25 global cities making the pledge. This action was organized by C40, a network of cities collaborating to fight climate change and reduce emissions.

Northeast states continuing exploration of clean transit system

The Transportation and Climate Initiative of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States, which includes Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont, seeks to develop a regional solution to cleaner, more sustainable transportation. During COP23, the states signed a joint resolution promising to move forward on taking public input and considering ways to develop area-wide transit policies that would reduce emissions. With major cities such as New York and Boston within this bounds of this sizable potential regional alliance, it’ll be interesting to see if these plans can turn into concrete action.

Study shows cities can make significant impact on emissions

While they can’t do it alone, cities can make a huge impact on fighting climate change. Global consultancy McKinsey released a new report called Focused Acceleration found that 20 percent of the needed action to fight climate change can be accomplished by cities along. As Vox’s David Roberts noted, cities need to focus on four main pillars of activity to have the most immediate impact: decarbonizing the energy grid, making buildings work better, reducing waste, and making transportation more efficient.