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States and businesses are essential for the US to become a climate leader

States and businesses are essential for the US to become a climate leader
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As President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenRev. Barber says best way to undercut extremism is with honesty Biden requires international travelers to quarantine upon arrival to US Overnight Defense: House approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee | Biden to seek five-year extension of key arms control pact with Russia | Two more US service members killed by COVID-19 MORE and Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHarris takes up temporary residence at Blair House Amanda Gorman captures national interest after inauguration performance Democrats formally elect Harrison as new DNC chair MORE take the mantle, one thing is clear: the U.S. has the chance to earn back its place as a global climate leader. Biden has already committed to making the necessary steps to rejoin the Paris Agreement and protect the Arctic.

To achieve the goal of net-zero emissions no later than 2050, the new administration must work collaboratively with states and businesses that are leading the fight against the climate crisis. It’s crucial that the Biden-Harris administration leverage this experience and knowledge to implement climate policies that not only reflect the science, but capture the opportunity of achieving a 100 percent clean energy economy.

States and businesses have laid the groundwork for accelerated climate action

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Since the early 2000s, and particularly in the past four years, states and businesses have developed sound policies and ambitious solutions to build a cleaner future. According to an America’s Pledge analysis, U.S.-based state, regional and business action can help reduce U.S. emissions 37 percent by 2030.

In California, the Under2 Coalition’s North American chair has been a long-standing climate leader and recently announced a 100 percent zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) sales target for all new passenger vehicles by 2035. Last April, during the height of the pandemic, New York State passed the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act to ensure not only its clean energy goals stay on track, but to create clean jobs. Their successful implementation of cost-effective greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions and smart policies show how the U.S. can shape this crucial decade of climate action.

Companies are also transitioning to 100 percent renewable electricity and investing in ZEVs for their fleets. And leading private-sector companies are pushing the bar on climate: at Climate Week NYC 2020, Walmart, the world’s largest retail company, committed to be 100 percent  carbon neutral across their global operations by 2040. Other major companies, like Amazon and Google, made their own leading climate commitments. 

While these efforts cannot replace federal action, they are the basis for a swift and ambitious U.S. response.

The new administration should leverage state and business action to improve overall US progress on climate

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The federal government can build on the successes that businesses and states have made in shifting demand to clean energy solutions. Non-federal players — like Michigan and their commitment to carbon-neutrality by 2050 — have filled the void during the past four years by maintaining momentum to meet crucial science-based targets. Through their actions, the electric vehicle market has doubled in the last three years and, in 2019, the U.S. consumed more renewable energy than coal, driving innovation and reducing costs. This allows for greater confidence and expanded ambition. Just last year, Under2 member state Virginia became the first state in the South to announce legislative measures to achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2050.

Regional climate legislation can guide the federal government in assessing state needs and how to support. The more ambitious states are, the more ambitious the federal government can be — particularly on elements like renewable portfolio standards and clean energy targets.

It’s clear that U.S. businesses and local governments will be vital allies to ensure the U.S. sets an ambitious new climate commitment under the Paris Agreement as they will have a prominent role in its successful implementation. Working together and instilling them with ownership of the process leading up to and during COP26 will create wide support for the targets and make them more likely to survive future administrations. 

States and businesses can only do so much — it’s time for Biden to take the reins

States and businesses have kept wind in the sails on climate, but in order to meet science-based targets the federal government is crucial in moving progress across the finish line. 

To start, new U.S. leadership should reverse regulatory environmental rollbacks from the previous administration, reestablishing the foundation for many GHGs emission reduction policies. But that won’t be enough. 

One limitation the new administration must address is that states are facing significant budget shortfalls given the current pandemic. Federal action is critical to implement a national economic stimulus to alleviate issues from the pandemic. Investing in a green recovery will be pivotal for states to build back greener post-pandemic. As the federal government looks to invest in economic recovery, it should provide resources that sustain and expand state-driven clean energy, infrastructure and conservation successes. 

State and business actions provide a foundation for renewed federal engagement and create a path to build a better future. With strong federal support for climate action, we have an extraordinary opportunity to raise ambition at all levels and ensure the U.S. achieves its climate goals, restores its leadership, and provides a more prosperous future for all. 

Amy Davidsen is the executive director of the North America at the Climate Group, where she  leads the work and impact in North America to accelerate the transition to a clean energy future. Follow the Climate Group on Twitter @ClimateGroup