Speaking at Sciences Po University on December 8, former California Governor Schwarzenegger recounted the state’s fight to implement fuel standards that went beyond federal targets. Some people, he recalled, advised California to wait for the national government. “To hell with that,” the Governor recalled responding, “we are not waiting for anyone.”  

California’s continued work to cut transportation emissions, through its Advanced Clean Cars Program, is one of nine case studies highlighted in Scaling Up: Local to Global Climate Action, a report produced by the Yale-Data Driven Group in collaboration with R-20 Regions for Climate Change, the Stanley Foundation, and USC’s Schwarzenegger Institute for Global Policy.

Harnessing Local Momentum for Climate Action

The report profiles nine cities and regions implementing effective climate policies, including examples from six of the ten most-emitting countries. Our research finds that scaling their strategies to the national level could reduce 2020 emissions from the countries featured in this report by a total of 1 gigaton – more than Germany emitted in 2012 – compared to current policy scenarios.

In a global context, adopting sub-national efforts at the national level could narrow the projected 8 to 10 gigaton gap between national pledges and the additional actions needed to maintain a least-cost 2 degrees Celsius trajectory by approximately 10 percent.  

The Stories Behind Local Emissions Reductions

The report’s case studies speak to the diverse range of motivations and strategies driving sub-national climate action. They span approaches ranging from technology innovations in waste management and renewable energy deployment, to policy instruments, like carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes.

Local climate strategies’ contribution to national mitigation goals varies widely. British Columbia’s strategy makes the biggest potential dent in Canada’s 2020 target; adopting this province’s carbon tax at the national level could cut the country’s 2020 emissions by 35 percent in 2020. Acre, Brazil’s deforestation programs, California’s Advanced Clean Cars Program, and Cape Town’s energy efficiency strategies follow close behind, getting their countries 31 – 22 percent closer to their 2020 mitigation goals.

But national emissions reductions don’t tell the whole story. At first glance, expanding Shenzhen’s emissions trading scheme to all of China’s major cities seems to generate trivial cuts: this extension would contribute less than two percent of the reductions China needs to meet its 2020 goal. However, a two-percent slice of one of the world’s largest emitters is globally substantial.

Implementing Shenzhen’s emissions trading scheme in other large Chinese cities would subtract 245 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from the world’s 2020 emissions. Despite its small impact on national reduction targets, Shenzhen’s scaled-up approach accounts for 25 percent of the cumulative 0.94 gigaton reduction of carbon dioxide equivalent that all nine case studies would collectively achieve.

Many of the case studies also generate economic and social, as well as environmental, returns on investment. Hamburg, Germany’s climate partnership with local industries saves participating companies an estimated 205 million euro per year through increased lighting, heating, and cooling efficiency. In South Africa, Cape Town’s energy efficiency efforts also cut residents’ energy cuts and reduces exposure to respiratory pollutants. Projects in the Algerian city of Oran and the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte and state of Acre also merge climate and development goals.  

Sub-national Action Center Stage at COP-21 in Paris

Cities, states and regions, along with with the private sector, grabbed an unprecedented share of the spotlight at COP-21. Forty-three new city, state and regional governments joined the Under 2 MOU during the Paris conference, pledging to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 80 to 95 percent by 2050. These and other commitments, drawn from a range of similar platforms and coalitions, account for 7,000 cities, spanning more than 99 countries, and representing approximately 11 percent of the global population and 32 percent of the global GDP.

Our report joins a global effort to pinpoint the lessons and emissions reduction potential from this expansive landscape of sub-national climate action. Cities, states and regions will be crucial to implementing the new COP21 agreement, and, as in the case of California, spurring national governments to set more ambitious targets.  

R-20 co-founder Terry Tamminen and Dr. Angel Hsu launched the report during the December 4 COP-21 Climate Summit for Local Leaders.  

Read the press release.

Watch their Bloomberg interview: