Before and beyond Paris: Climate action at all levels

Negotiators from more than 190 nations have the opportunity to work out an important and perhaps transformative international climate agreement in December in Paris.

But the work at the negotiating table has been preceded by countless steps taken by communities, states, companies and individuals across the globe to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are altering our climate. And long after the Paris talks have concluded, these actors will be crucial to building sustainable solutions to our climate and energy challenges.

Some of the world’s largest cities have been working to lower emissions by purchasing green power, introducing electric vehicle programs and policies, turning waste into compost and fuel, and improving the energy efficiency of buildings. Other cities have developed multi-tiered climate commitments through the Compact of Mayors. And many communities are assessing their vulnerabilities to the impacts of climate change that we’re already experiencing and will worsen.

States and provinces, too, are in action. Ten states that are home to a quarter of the U.S. population are already reducing power plant emissions through carbon pricing programs. Carbon regulatory programs are also up and running at the provincial level in Canada and China (plus in the European Union). Also, many states have set rules and programs to encourage the use of renewable energy and improve energy efficiency. For example, Arizona has a goal of generating 15 percent of its energy from renewables by 2025, and the state government in California benchmarks its energy use across buildings and vehicle fleets.

Businesses are also reducing emissions and supporting a strong agreement in Paris. Major companies like Nike, Walmart, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson have pledged to go to 100 percent renewable energy. Many energy companies are expanding into cleaner forms of power. More than 80 companies signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge issued by the White House. Additionally, in a petition organized by C2ES, 14 energy, technology and manufacturing companies (with $1.1 trillion combined revenues and 1.5 million employees) called for a balanced and durable global climate agreement in Paris.

Individuals, too, are demanding bold action on climate. The People’s Climate March last year in New York City drew more than 300,000. And while a similar march in Paris had to be canceled due to security concerns, it’s clear that globally and in the U.S., most people acknowledge the reality of climate change.

So as negotiators and observers head to Paris for what could be a defining moment, we must also make it a defining opportunity for all of us. We all have a positive and important part to play – whether we’re climate negotiators, city officials, members of local environmental groups, business owners, or students – in creating a smart and sustainable future.