Last December’s climate summit in Paris set a mandate for its 196 participating countries to reduce carbon emissions worldwide. But subnational groups – cities, states and regions – aren’t waiting for action. California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia are among the 128 jurisdictions that have signed onto the Under 2 MOU, pledging to limit the global temperature increase to under 2 degrees Celsius.
The Subnational Clean Energy Ministerial was held in San Francisco recently, which gave several west coast leaders a chance to stop by Climate One. Oregon governor Kate Brown, Washington governor Jay Inslee and British Columbia’s Minister of Environment Mary Polak joined Greg Dalton to discuss how the Pacific regions plan to keep their cool in the face of climate change, while promoting and growing their clean energy economies.
In Washington, the effects of global warming are far from abstract, says Inslee – they’re showing up throughout the state. “We had forest fires burn larger than the state of Delaware last year,” he reports. “Oyster growers have had to move their operations” because of ocean acidification.
“When I think of climate change, I think of the faces that I've seen of people whose lives are being threatened by this emergency,” Inslee reflects. “So this is personal, it's real, it's here and it demands an urgent response.”
That response includes reducing carbon emissions from cars and shifting from coal-generated power to more renewable sources. Both measures are already underway in Oregon. The last coal powered electricity plant, in Boardman, will be shuttered by 2020, says Brown. “Recently I signed into law a bill that will move Oregon away from coal generated electricity,” she adds proudly. “We are the first state in the nation to do that.”
British Columbia has long been ahead of the game with its revenue-neutral carbon tax, which was instituted in 2008. “You might think we're crazy for doing that, instituting a new tax when you have an economic downturn,” says Polak. “But the evidence now is pretty overwhelming that it not only dropped our petroleum consumption across all fuel types, but we believe it actually strengthened our economy.”
The revenue earned through the tax is returned to citizens through tax reductions or rebate checks. “We all know that there are industries we need to tackle,” continues Polak. “But if you really want those deep emissions reductions, you have to do things that are going to change the market for clean electricity…that are going to change the behaviors of everyday people that live in your communities.”
When it comes to livable communities, Oregon has long been a leader; their commitment to efficient urban planning goes back many decades, says Brown. “That is a tool that we don't always think of when we're talking about global climate change,” she continues. “Because having compact cities enables us to develop a transportation infrastructure that enables people to get to places very easily. And you can do it in a way that promotes health as well, through walking and biking.”
Inslee admits that Seattle has lagged in developing light rail. But they’re poised to catch up with a newly passed transportation package, “Not only the largest transportation package in our state’s history, but the greenest, with the heaviest percentage attributable to light rail.
“I think that’s easy to forget any infrastructure that we invest in today has a carbon footprint,” Inslee reminded the crowd. “And we’ve been diligent in making sure that we think about that when we make our infrastructure improvements.”
Inslee, a Republican, maintains that in order to make real progress on climate change, both parties will need to work together.
“I have been awaiting the arrival of a Republican leader who will stand up and say that my party, the grand old party, stands for recognition of clear science and common sense solutions that grow rather than shrink our economy. And I'm still waiting.”
After the program, host Greg Dalton visited the Startups and Solutions Showcase, held in Union Square, just a few blocks from the Commonwealth Club. Join him as he talks with innovators in transportation alternatives: cars, trucks, motorcycles and scooters, fueled by renewable energy and designed to be fun, fast and efficient.
Photography: Sonya Abrams