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States Are the Backbone of US Climate Action

November 18, 2021

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The Honorable Jackie Dingfelder
Former State Senator, Oregon

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This piece was written by Jackie Dingfelder, board member of NCEL and former Oregon state legislator

Last week, countries concluded negotiations at COP26 in Glasgow. Leading up to this historic gathering, more than 500 state legislators from 47 states and territories called on the federal government to raise our ambition and strengthen climate commitments under the Paris Agreement. The time for action is now, and as the largest historical contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, the United States has a moral and practical responsibility to reach net zero emissions by or before 2050.

While the agreements from COP26 bring us closer to limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, there is still much work to do. And we must follow through on implementation. For too long, the federal government has abdicated its climate leadership role, with states stepping up to fill that void. I served as a state legislator for 13 years and am proud of the role state legislators play. But state action isn’t enough. We rely on the federal government to provide a strong baseline for climate action and to represent us as a united country at international climate negotiations. 

Climate change impacts are being felt across the country now. Any further delay in climate action will only make the impacts on our states worse. I’ve seen firsthand the impacts of how climate change affects my home state of Oregon. We’ve experienced increased temperatures, dealt with rising seas, and suffered from historic, apocalyptic wildfires. This year has demonstrated other intensifying impacts of climate change across the country as well, from historic damages from hurricanes, to droughts and flooding, and heatwaves and cold snaps. It is time that we take the bold steps needed to avoid further climate catastrophe.

States have led on climate action while building the new clean energy economy and addressing systemic inequities. We know that climate solutions are not complete without addressing the current inequities that exist in our systems. As we build a clean energy economy, we can build a system that protects the health and well-being of all communities and creates well-paying, local jobs.

The ambitious policies championed by states can serve as a roadmap for federal action. States act as laboratories for democracy and provide the federal government with lessons learned and expertise. For example, nearly two-thirds of U.S. states and territories have some form of Renewable Portfolio Standard or Clean Energy Standard, and more than a dozen have committed to 100% clean energy. States are also transitioning automobile fleets to zero-emissions vehicles, reducing building energy use, and protecting natural landscapes to enhance carbon sequestration.

While the focus of the world has been on the federal government, the U.S. is more than the Congress and the presidency. States have the ability to set much of their own policies, and we do. While the COP26 negotiations came up short this year, there are policymakers working in US territories and across all 50 states to take climate action. In this critical moment, we must stand united–our survival depends on it. Together, with strong international, national, regional, and state action, we can take the steps needed to avoid further climate catastrophe.