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Will the Golden State Inspire Global Climate Action?

The last couple of years have been a trying time for national climate action. In the United States, the Trump administration has been working overtime to undermine progress. Political shifts in other countries are throwing progress in doubt—Australia’s prime minister was recently ousted due to his climate stance.

Without a doubt, much more needs to be done if the world is going to prevent the worst climate impacts. Reminders of the risks are plentiful, with recent record-breaking wildfires, heat waves, severe droughts and other signs of our changing planet.

Against this backdrop, a group of leaders, experts and citizens are headed to the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) in San Francisco this week, which aims to highlight bright spots and spur momentum. And, to be sure, bright spots can be seen—you just need to know where to look for them. Several countries are continuing to make strides. In many nations, including the United States, significant action is happening outside the national level, with states, cities, businesses, communities and others pushing to cut pollution, protect people and spur economic benefits. These players will be on bold display in San Francisco this week.

While the summit is taking place in California, it’s global in scope, with ministers and officials coming from around the world. If successful, the summit will challenge national officials—not only in the United States, but in halls of power around the world.

Making the Case for Climate Action

The main driver for climate action is not just good will. It’s grounded in smart economics.

The latest research by the New Climate Economy, launched last week at the UN headquarters, finds the economic benefits of smart climate action are likely much greater than previously estimated. The research shows that low-carbon action could generate $26 trillion in economic benefits by 2030. In addition, it could generate 65 million new low-carbon jobs, avoid more than 700,000 premature deaths from air pollution, and generate an estimated $2.8 trillion in government revenues.

This is the kind of good news that can help inject a spirit of optimism at the summit. Expect to hear other major announcements, including by summit leaders Governor Jerry Brown and UN Special Envoy on Climate Change Michael Bloomberg. They’re co-chairs of America’s Pledge, which will deliver a comprehensive assessment of U.S. sub-national climate progress.

There is no doubt that this needs to be an all-hands-on-deck moment—where everyone from city officials to business leaders to heads of state join the effort to fulfill the vision of the Paris Agreement by stepping up their climate commitments by 2020.

What should we look for at GCAS? Here’s what to watch, organized by the five main themes of the summit.

1) Healthy Energy Systems

Without a doubt, the cost of renewable energy has been falling and access is expanding. Expect GCAS to address questions about how to accelerate the shift: What do we know about where we are heading, and about the institutional and technical challenges we face in making the transition to low-carbon power? Look for new announcements about commitments to renewable energy, electric vehicles and energy efficiency. California itself is leading the way, with a new clean energy standard just signed by Governor Brown.

Watch for a range of actors—including businesses, cities and states—to continue to articulate their pathways to clean energy. It will be important to see if conversations include how to ensure technological affordability and creating infrastructure and financing that will be available to everyone.

On the energy efficiency side, events like Carbon Smart Building Day should help raise awareness of the role of industries like construction to reduce carbon emissions. While we’ve seen global platforms and partnerships seeking to move the needle on building efficiency, this issue has not yet received sufficient attention at the highest levels of government.

2) Inclusive Economic Growth

This topic focuses on business leadership, and how mobilizing action can generate good jobs and spur global development. One important issue to watch is how businesses are responding to the challenge to set science-based emissions-reduction targets—companies including Dell, McDonalds and Sony have all made commitments. Will others join? Will companies that don’t make serious climate commitments be viewed by others in their sector as followers rather than leaders?

Beyond economics, we should expect to see business, government and labor groups work together towards a just transition, with new opportunities and the creation of good jobs.

3) Sustainable Communities

City leaders are one of the main subnational groups that will be vying for attention in San Francisco. Many cities have been working to create new commitments and pledges specific to cities’ strengths and abilities. Expect to hear announcements on urban mobility, clean energy and buildings, and waste and resilience. Watch for developments on the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Declaration, led by the World Green Building Council, and the Carbon Smart Building Day Manifesto (which WRI has signed), both of which commit cities and private building owners to set targets for their buildings to achieve net-zero operational carbon emissions. We’ll also see new signatories to existing political pledges such as C40’s Fossil Fuel Free Streets and Advancing Towards Zero Waste.

4) Land Stewardship

A broad coalition of public and private actors will use GCAS to highlight the large—and largely unappreciated—potential of the land sector to help stabilize the climate. The theme for Forest, Food and Land Day on September 13 will be “Meeting the 30 X 30 Challenge,” referring to the ability of the land sector to deliver up to 30 percent of emissions reductions needed by 2030.

Related sessions will focus on how conservation and restoration of forests can reduce emissions and increase resilience, and how private companies can achieve their goals of removing deforestation from their commodity supply chains.

Just prior to the summit, the Annual Meeting of the Governors Climate and Forests Task Force will highlight sub-national partnerships with indigenous peoples that recognize their valuable role in protecting the world’s forests.

In a related area, WRI will unveil a new platform on food that will encourage companies, universities, city governments and others to cut the greenhouse gas emissions in the food they serve to employees and customers.

5) Transformative Climate Investments

Lastly, we expect to see further commitments from investors behind smart climate solutions, such as issuances of green bonds, as well as on climate risk disclosure in their portfolios. Many investors made climate pledges in 2014 and 2015 in the run-up to the Paris Agreement, so it will be important to assess progress and reflect on how new commitments can increase ambition.

In addition to mobilizing investments, there is a need for concessional finance to support low-income and vulnerable developing countries as they pursue low-emissions development strategies and adapt to climate impacts. While international climate finance has traditionally been the responsibility of national governments, cities, states, businesses and citizens can also be contributors. This is particularly important in countries like the United States, where the federal government has retreated from its financial commitments.

We’re hoping to see initiatives that recognize the importance of finance for global action by supporting international climate fund mechanisms, such as the Green Climate Fund and Adaptation Fund.

Riding a Wave of Climate Action Momentum

Ultimately, enthusiasm generated from the summit cannot end there. It needs to be picked up by national governments as they move to strengthen their own policies and enhance their commitments under the Paris Agreement. With a surge of inspiration at the summit, national representatives can draw on the energy of cities, states and businesses as they are push forward to accelerate the global transition to a safer, healthier and more prosperous future.

Rhys Gerholdt, Jennifer Layke, Leonardo Martinez-Diaz, Kevin Moss, Frances Seymour, Emma Stewart, David Waskow, and Debby Zabarenko also contributed to this blog post.

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