States, cities, businesses and universities are making important contributions to cutting carbon emissions in the United States, even without the federal government’s support of the Paris Agreement’s goals on climate change, Professor Nathan Hultman, director of the Center for Global Sustainability in the School of Public Policy, testified before Congress last week.

Speaking before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environmental and Climate Change, Hultman outlined findings from the most recent report funded by the America’s Pledge initiative. (The initiative was created by UMD spring commencement speaker Michael Bloomberg and former California Gov. Jerry Brown.) It focused on the critical role non-federal entities can play in setting and achieving climate goals, and how those can help lay the groundwork for a broader federal suite of policies. Hultman served as the lead author on the report and CGS co-led research with the Rocky Mountain Institute. 

“Without federal action, they are the major remaining drivers for continued reductions in U.S. emissions,” he said.

Below are some of Hultman’s key points from the hearing.

  • Non-federal groups are banding together to reduce emissions. More than 3,600 states, cities, businesses, communities of faith, tribal groups, universities, cultural institutions and more have formed the We Are Still In (WASI) coalition, focusing on supporting the goals embedded in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Other, similar coalitions include 22 governors from both parties. Altogether, these coalitions represent the equivalent of the world's third-largest economy and more than 173 million people.
     
  • These groups don’t need the federal government to make an impact. “States have considerable scope to affect emissions outcomes through energy policies such as renewable energy targets and building energy efficiency codes, and municipalities also have considerable scope through regional planning and local transportation policies,” Hultman testified. He also noted that companies have lots of decision-making authority in our free market economy and open political system, such as whether to procure renewable electricity or more efficient transportation fleets.
     
  • Existing commitments from subnational actors could drive carbon emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2025. That would put the U.S. two-thirds of the way toward its Paris target.
     
  • Other actions by states, cities and businesses could put U.S. emissions within striking distance of the country’s Paris target. Rapid expansion of renewables, reductions in methane leakage, accelerated coal power retirements and other approaches could reduce carbon emissions by more than 24% below 2005 levels by 2025—close to the target of 26 to 28%.
     
  • While these efforts won’t deliver reductions at the rate needed to meet long-term climate goals, they can enhance additional progress through new federal action. “Despite the challenges to action apparent today, the extraordinary changes we are seeing across the U.S. economy—driven by these many actors stepping up to answer the urgent need—underscores that we can effectively respond to climate change as a country if we harness this momentum and build quickly on it,” Hultman said.
     
  • The United States can lead the world by demonstrating what subnational action can accomplish. A recent report from the United Nations Environment Programme found that more than 7,000 cities from 133 countries and 6,000 companies have pledged action to reduce emissions. “(T)he fact that American subnational actors are still making significant progress in reducing our own emissions is an important signal to countries that the U.S. is still remaining engaged and delivering real change, despite the lack of federal engagement,” Hultman said.

The University of Maryland is among the non-federal actors committed to climate change action, and is making progress on its goal of becoming a carbon-neutral campus by 2050. Under the university’s Climate Action Plan 2.0, UMD has already cut emissions by 49 percent since 2005. The plan includes the Carbon Neutral Air Travel Initiative, which offsets greenhouse gas emissions related to university air travel, as well as getting imported electrical energy exclusively from renewable sources, installing 10,000 solar panels on campus, planting more trees, capturing carbon from landfills, and ensuring that all new buildings have a carbon-neutral footprint. The university is also part of the Universities Climate Change Coalition.