Libby Ferguson: States and regions, the unsung climate heroes

Reading time: 5 minutes
1 July 2015

Libby Ferguson, States & Regions Director, The Climate Group, writes about the unique position of sub-national governments in the global climate challenge, ahead of two critical states and regions events taking place in Rhone-Alpes, France and Ontario, Canada over the next two weeks.

When we think of the necessity of taking bold climate action, we often refer to the international climate talks, like COP21 in Paris later this year.

After all, the biggest countries’ climate announcements always make the headlines. The role of cities as climate actors is also increasingly recognized. But there is an additional level of serious government actors that often slip under the radar. They are the committed, forward-thinking state and regional governments from all over the world.

Since 2005, The Climate Group has worked with these governments to deliver and publicize their bold climate commitments and actions through our States & Regions Alliance.


But why do we do this when there are big UN climate negotiations driving national action? A recent UNEP report indicated that cities, regions, companies and NGOs can help the world save 1.8 gigatons of CO2 equivalent in 2020. That’s an impressive number for supposedly ‘small’ actors.

This number clearly shows that even if climate change is a global problem, it can be effectively tackled on a regional scale.

State and regional governments in particular, are already making huge advances in tackling climate change. Acting at the next level down from national governments, governors and premiers are making ambitious commitments to reduce GHG emissions within their jurisdictions.

We are working with these governments to encourage them to publicly report their commitments and inventory data through the Compact of States and Regions – already 20 global governments representing over $8 trillion in global GDP have reported to the Compact.

In addition, through the Under2MOU, governments are collectively working together to set and deliver on long term targets of at least 80% emissions reductions by 2050. Despite these bold actions, they are too often amongst the unsung heroes of climate action.


States and regions have two key leverage points.

Firstly, they are great enablers of city and corporate action. These governments have policy levers over areas such as buildings, transport and the economy – and through sending the right policy signals both cities and businesses are enabled to do more.

The South Australian government, for example, has recently announced that it will work with the city of Adelaide to reach zero net carbon emissions by 2020 through their policy setting. Other regions are concentrating on electric vehicles policy, renewables or energy efficiency mechanisms.

Secondly and often most importantly, states and regions are significant climate actors in their own right. They are setting world leading low carbon policies that are demonstrating to national governments what can be achieved through setting clear climate goals.

A bright example of this is the Government of Ontario, the first jurisdiction in North America to fully eliminate coal as a source of electricity generation. Or the joint Emission Trading Scheme Québec and California launched last year, making it the largest regional carbon market in North America. These are just two examples of the many policy innovations that are coming from this level of government.


The exciting opportunity presented by operating at the state or regional level is that these governments have not only the political will but alsoin many cases they have the jurisdictional power and budgets to deliver an effective response to the threat of climate change. Research by The Climate Group has shown that our members have significant control right across key functions such as energy generation and distribution, buildings, transport, economy and agriculture. And they are using them, often going much further than their respective national governments.

States and regions are much less politicized than their corresponding national governments: they can remain outside of global politics, and therefore focus on the needs of their citizens – ensuring long term prosperity for both people and businesses.

In addition, sub-national governments operate at a level where some of the most flexible and innovative policies are developed. They have the power and resources to act, but at the same time are closer to local business and communities enabling a faster  response to different policy needs.

As our report ‘Age of experiments’ shows, states and regions are using this space of research and experimentation to develop a new generation of climate and energy policies that are having transformational impacts.


So what can sub-national governments do on the road to Paris? We at The Climate Group are focusing on two areas. Firstly, through initiatives such as the Compact of States and Regions and the Under2MOU, we aredrawing attention to the bold climate commitments and the leadership shown by Governors and Premiers , to encourage more ambitious national action – and importantly, add their voice to the international momentum in support of a global agreement on climate.

In the longer term, our focus is on working with these governments to ensure that these bold commitments are delivered. For the States & Regions Alliance, this means putting the data gathered through the Compact to optimum use and bringing these climate leaders together to learn about, improve and replicate the most impactful policy solutions not only for the benefit of states and regions, but also in support of actions by our city and national government partners.

There is a huge opportunity to harness and align the climate leadership of all levels of governments - cities, states and nations.

Let’s grab it.

The Climate Group States & Regions program brings together sub-national government leaders from around the world in a powerful, high-profile network that shares expertise, demonstrates impact and influences the international climate dialogue.

We are taking part in two critical events, The World Summit Climate & Territories in Lyon, France on July 1-2 and the Climate Summit of the Americas in Ontario, Canada from  July 7 – 9, 2015. Both are for sub-national governments to get full recognition and show their commitment for climate action ahead of this year’s COP 21 Paris meetings.

Follow the events and related Twitter Q&As live using hashtag #StatesandRegions

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