Three years of the Under2 Coalition

Author: Ken Alex
21 May 2018

Ken Alex, Director of the Governor's Office of Planning and Research and Senior Policy Advisor to Governor Jerry Brown in the Government of California, reflects on the achievements of the Under2 Coalition since its genesis three years ago, and discusses its ambition for the future. 

In May 2015, the Under2 Coalition was formed to boost the voice of state and regions in international climate negotiations. Twelve states and regions gathered in California to sign the Under2 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), a commitment to climate action to keep the global temperature rise to under 2°C of warming. Under2 signatories commit to strong climate action, including reduction of GHG emissions by at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 or under 2 tons per capita. 

Now three years later, the Under2 Coalition has over 200 signatories and endorsers in 43 countries across every continent and every economic type, from rainforest to agricultural to industrial juggernaut and everything in between. It represents 1.3 billion people and nearly 40% of global GDP. These are impressive statistics, but the challenge remains: how can the coalition be most effective in building political will for climate action and the scale necessary for worldwide impact?

The Under2 Coalition focuses on three building blocks to action: greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories; pathways to 2030 and 2050 emissions reductions; and work groups focused on sharing innovative climate policy.  

First, jurisdictions need accurate baseline inventories of GHG emissions so that they can measure progress and disclose their data. This turns out to be more difficult and less available than one might suspect. So, one of the first tasks of the Under2 Coalition is to identify states and regions without sufficient inventories and help them build that data set. 

Secondly, determining the pathways and tradeoffs for significant GHG emission reductions in the 2030 and 2050 timeframes are important and challenging. Pathways for rainforest states, for agrarian economies and for advanced industrial regions, will be quite different. The Under2 Coalition is working with pathways organizations to develop these medium- and long-term plans, jurisdiction by jurisdiction.

Finally, states, regions and cities within the Under2 Coalition are working together on the policy aspects of GHG emission reduction. Their focus varies from the health sector, to tackling methane and supporting the transition from coal to renewables.

Many of these actions are cost effective and doable now, but are not in common practice. Practices as basic as moving cattle more quickly from grazing areas before the grass is consumed to the nub, are not in general usage. The Under2 Coalition seeks to identify the mechanisms that will promote change more quickly and more substantially through a combination of actions among its members and beyond.

The activities of the Under2 Coalition are designed to deal with issues of political will, scale, technology, and finance. The coalition includes the jurisdictions most committed to action and therefore provides opportunities for pilot projects, innovation, faster action, and market penetration. As a global coalition with a diverse membership, it faces its own challenges, primarily around funding; communication across time, language, and culture; staff capacity; and changing political dynamics. Nonetheless, it is a delivery system of significant potential that has grown dramatically in size and scope in its three years of existence.

Looking forwards to the Global Climate Action Summit, the Under2 Coalition now has a fantastic opportunity to continue this growth. In September as the spotlight shines on state and regional governments, they need to take their chance on the stage to show the world and their national governments what they can achieve. Doing so will not only strengthen their position back home but set the coalition up in a great position for driving forward state and regional climate action to the COP in 2020.

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