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How the US can take the lead on climate action

7 May 2021, 16:47 UTC 6 min read

This past Earth Day, within his first 100 days in office, President Biden held The Leaders' Summit on Climate with national leadership from around the world, where he announced the new US target to reduce GHG pollution 50-52% by 2030. On this date, we brought together leaders from business, government, and the climate community to ask: “Can the US take the lead in averting climate catastrophe?” Watch the full recording of the event.

Amy Davidsen, Executive Director, North America at The Climate Group was joined by Badar Khan, President, National Grid, US; Mark Chambers, Senior Director for Building Emissions, White House Council on Environmental Quality; Gina McCarthy, National White House Climate Advisor; David Ige, Governor, Government of Hawaii; British Ambassador to the US, Dame Karen Pierce; Peggy Shepard, Co-Founder & Executive Director, WE ACT for Environmental Justice; and Aimee Barnes (moderator), Founder, Hua Nani Partners. Each contributor provided their valuable insights on how the US can rise to the occasion and lead the global fight against climate change.

Some of the main takeaways: 

Subnational governments have and will continue to play a critical role in driving action to achieve science-based 2030 targets, while building back better with a green and just recovery.  

Dame Karen Pierce said: “I want to salute what the governors and what other governments at the subnational level have done while the US was out of the Paris Agreement.” 

Governor Ige expressed that Hawaii is a microcosm of the US’s path under President Biden. Governor Ige said: “Hawaii is the first state in the country to pass legislation and adopt principles and goals of the Paris Agreement and the first to set net-negative goals to reduce emissions.” 

Mark Chambers stated: “The buildings that make up our cities and towns are responsible for a third of our climate altering carbon pollution—our ability to retrofit and electrify those same buildings will define our healthy, affordable, and clean energy future.” As the previous Director of Sustainability of the City of New York, Chambers discussed how the city’s thoughtful and creative actions in the built environment can offer an example and de-risk similar work for other cities. He went on to say: “There is a direct correlation between the role that cities have been doing over the past few years and what the federal government can do at the national level.” 

Environmental justice must be at the forefront of all of our work.  

Gina McCarthy maintained: “The climate solutions of today allow us to create good paying, union jobs and we’re finding ways to ensure that benefits are proved first and foremost to environmental justice communities that have been systematically disinvested in, where families and communities have simply been left behind.” 

Peggy Shepard asserted that environmental justice must be put on the agenda of every city, locality, and federal government around the world. Shepard stressed the importance of Biden’s Justice40 initiative, which aims to distribute at least 40 percent of investments in new energy into frontline communities. Her take on the US’s role internationally: “The US needs to take the lead in addressing the climate crisis, and the Biden administration’s emphasis on climate justice—and support for the Global South, which has been hard hit by climate change—is a model other nations should emulate with clear targets, timetables, and metrics.” 

Dame Karen Pierce: When discussing what the US’s new commitment means for global climate action, Dame Pierce emphasized the doubling of US public climate finance for developing countries. She hopes this will drive momentum from developed countries towards reaching the 100-billion-dollar target, which was set by the UNFCCC for developing countries to finance their own adaptation and resilience strategies.   

We do not have to choose between economic growth and combatting climate change.   

Gina McCarthy: In many ways, The American Jobs Plan is a direct response to the climate crisis. In developing and investing in clean and necessary infrastructure, the plan will simultaneously generate millions of jobs throughout every sector of the economy. McCarthy upheld: “President Biden’s plan to build back better, including the American Jobs Plan, will empower America to lead a clean energy revolution and to make the future sustainable—and that’s not just a promise, that’s a reality.”  

Dame Karen Pierce shared that the UK has successfully cut emissions by 43 percent since 1990 and in that same period of time, the UK economy has grown 73 percent. Dame Pierce said: “We put a lot of effort into jobs and growth. We want to show that it’s not a zero-sum game.” When asked how to ensure climate progress in the US and beyond is irreversible, Dame Pierce responded: “It’s about making jobs and growth center-stage, so that people benefit, they see a benefit, and they want to keep going.” 

Governor Ige explained that Hawaii recognizes the economic and environmental costs of relying on fossil fuels. The transition to renewable energy and “indigenous resources” allows Hawaii to keep money at home, thereby improving the state’s economy, environment, and energy security. 

There is no room on the sidelines. Climate change impacts everyone and to combat the climate crisis we need everyone to act: businesses, governments, organizations, communities, and individuals.  

Badar Khan deemed Biden’s presidency to be the turning point in climate action and expressed: “The task ahead is expansive and challenging but with all hands-on deck, we feel optimistic. By working with regulators, policy makers, entrepreneurs and businesses, meeting national and global climate commitments is within our reach.” 

Peggy Shepard emphasized the strong role the business community can play in both climate action and environmental justice. She urged: “Sustainability shouldn’t just be how a business helps their own bottom line, but how can they be a good neighbor to their consumers and in the neighborhoods they’re based in.” 

“It's about unlocking the capacity of all Americans to be able to bend their skillsets, their passions, and their work towards this effort. Every job needs to be a climate job. Every part of our economic progress needs to be part of our climate solutions. Every part of what we do from this point forward has to be in service of a livable, affordable, and habitable planet for all of us.” 

Mark Chambers, Senior Director for Building Emissions, White House Council on Environmental Quality

Gina McCarthy ended with confidence in America: “A stronger, safer, more equitable future is not only possible, it’s within our reach. Let’s all stand up and let all the young people fighting for a brighter future know that we see them, we hear them, and we will not let them down.” 

The US can take the lead in avoiding climate catastrophe. 

In order to effectively combat climate change, we will need everyone on board. That is not just a message for businesses, organizations, and government. To be successful, we must give individuals, communities, and less developed countries the tools to not only support climate action, but to thrive. That means directly investing in underserved communities, creating quality, high-paying jobs, and financing climate resilience and adaptation strategies in developing countries as we work towards a more sustainable, just future. 

Missed the event? Watch the full recording.