The Paris Climate Accord came about after tremendous effort and long negotiation. This made the pronouncement of a U.S. withdrawal from the accord such a poignant disappointment for so many. It has been inspiring to see so many businesses, states and local governments stepping into the leadership vacuum. Bold statements, inspiring pledges and lofty promises have been made! Carbon free! 100% renewable! We’ll be solar powered!
Are you feeling a sense of de ja vu? Me too. We’ve been here before.
Recent articles in Greentech Media, and elsewhere, have rightly pointed out that there have been previous bold statements and brave promises. In California, local government leaders have previously been inspired to say they will act to address climate change. Which is great; it’s probably the most pressing issue of the century. But, what has come of all that? A lot less than what was promised and envisioned. What happened?
The bottom line is that it’s easier to make bold statements about far-off goals as a political position than it is to figure out how to reach those goals and then put those plans into practice. Ask any local government staff person. There are many implementation hurdles to overcome, even in the most supportive context. There are silos, bureaucracies, contract schedules and budget cycles, the saga of ‘close but not quite a fit’ agency grant systems, NIMBYs and NIMTOOs, and the impacts of larger economic cycles. But, for local governments, the most significant issue is the need for stable, flexible financial resources.
Governor Brown said in an interview recently; “No nation or state is doing what they should be doing. This is damn serious, and most people are taking it far too lightly than the reality of the threat. You can’t do too much to sound the alarm because so far the response is not adequate to the challenge.”
No matter how great the challenge, and no matter how much we’d all like to respond and how much local government staff may agree with the governor’s statement, without the necessary resources, in a few years we will be in the same position as we are today; recalling our excitement about the bold visions and brave promises, and wishing the resources had been there to make them happen. However, with all the attention that the issue of climate change is getting, and the growing recognition that the real action is going to be at sub-national and local levels, now is the time for local governments to press for more resources – from state agencies, from utilities, from citizens and from businesses – so that they can not only pick up the torch of leadership, but can make solid plans to uphold the bold statements and implement the actions needed to ensure a better future for all communities.