We Are Still In, the organization that announced its formation yesterday after President Donald Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate accord, is the latest effort to keep the U.S. aligned with global climate action in the face of federal withdrawal. But can the nascent movement maintain solidarity and help a diverse coalition of city, state, nonprofit, and corporate actors meet the goals of the groundbreaking deal?
During a press conference this morning, local, state, and business leaders who had joined the group provided an early window into how the group may function, and how it intends to represent the United States on the global stage at a time when the current White House has abandoned the international framework.
The nascent group, which is still adding members, consisted of 125 cities, 9 states, 902 businesses and investors, and 183 colleges and universities as of this morning. Participating cities and states represent 120 million Americans and contribute $6.2 trillion to the U.S. economy.
According to Daniel Firger of Bloomberg Philanthropies, the organization which has helped to coordinate the effort, the plan isn’t to hold participants to any binding climate goals. The goal of the advocacy group is to create a mechanism to keep track of the country’s efforts to lower carbon emissions.
“We will not be calling on any governor, CEO, mayor, or university leader, to participate in the Paris process in any formal way,” Firger says. “What we will do is aggregate the climate impact of these subnational actors in the US and share them with the world. Going forward, we’re waiting to see how America’s pledge can be pulled together, and we’ll work with the UN and other relevant authorities to determine the best format for a submission.”
While he expects this arrangement will spur on more subnational contributions, the group can’t formally join other national actors as a party to the Paris agreement—yet. But it can hopefully show the world, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), how the U.S. is contributing to a worldwide solution. In the meantime, billionaire philanthropist and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pledged to contribute $15 million the U.S. owes to the United Nations climate fund since it may not receive this payment from a recalcitrant Trump administration.
When asked how the organization will help meet the country’s Paris goals when large states such as Texas, aren’t participating, and Trump and the federal government aren’t playing a role, many pointed to the power that state and local officials still have to make an impact. Oregon Governor Kate Brown noted that her state has stricter energy and environmental regulations than the federal government. Firger also said many of the bedrock environmental laws on the books, such as the Clean Power Plan, still haven’t been rolled back. He expects state attorneys general as well as organizations such as the Sierra Club to battle against any regulatory changes.
Many leaders discussed how the safety and well-being of their residents made addressing climate change a priority. Mayor Jackie Biskupski of Salt Lake City, a leader of the Mayors for 100% Clean Energy initiative, noted that her city’s climate is warming at twice the national level, and concern about the health of her residents and the economy is at the forefront of her mind, especially since climate change threatens the billion-dollar ski industry that employs thousands in the metro area.
As chancellor of California State University, Tim White pointed out that the school system, which consists of more half a million students and employees, has been pushing hard to green the grid, with 15.5 megawatts of solar installed throughout all 23 campuses. They’ve already reduced greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels, and have adopted a plan fully in line with the Paris agreement.
Scott Deitz, Vice President, Corporate Relations at VF Corporation (a shoe and apparel company behind brands such as Vans) added that interested parties who want to take climate action just need to take a look at corporate sustainability reports to see that big companies are not just making commitments to stand by their pledges, they are accelerating them.