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Subnational climate action spotlight: US states

10 March 2021, 9:25 UTC 3 min read

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, US states have remained at the forefront of climate action. As the Biden Administration prepares to announce its enhanced NDC, will states and regions already showing leadership and determination provide the inspiration for higher ambition? 

The Under2 Coalition now includes 13 states from the US representing just under 10% of the global economy, and we welcomed Nevada as our newest member in February. These states also have representation at the highest level of the Coalition, through our North America co-chair Gavin Newsom, Governor of California. Together with representatives from KwaZulu-Natal, Queretaro, Scotland and Chungnam Province, California is instrumental in pushing for ambitious efforts on climate across all Under2 Coalition members.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, US states have remained at the forefront of climate action: 

  • Under2 Coalition members joined with Canadian provinces to set new ways of working together for maximum effect in 2021;
  • 23 US states sued the federal government for moves to roll back fuel efficiency standards;
  • Governors from Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and the Mayor of Washington D.C., formally signed on to the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to establish an emissions trading system for the transportation sector;
  • California announced that it would be phasing out internal combustion engines (ICEs) by 2035;
  • Nevada set up the ‘Clean Cars Nevada’ initiative in June, with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas and other pollutant emissions from vehicles sold each year;
  • Rhode Island’s Act on Climate Bill, with enforceable goals for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, passed the Senate Committee this month.

California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York State, and Washington all have plans to achieve economy-wide, net zero emissions by 2050. Each of these, alongside Rhode Island and Virginia, also have 100% renewable energy or electricity targets to be achieved by, or before, 2050. Goals such as this help to decarbonize the economy, making a greener, more sustainable future achievable.


Low- and zero-emissions vehicles are also an important ingredient in reducing the greater than one billion tonnes of CO2e that the US transportation sector emits annually. Eight of the twelve US states that have adopted California’s ambitious ZEV standards are Under2 Coalition members and transport is one of the biggest sectors we are working to change.

In addition to transport, heavy industry and the built environment are also responsible for a large percentage of total GHG emissions in North America. Finding a way to make industry and buildings cleaner and more energy efficient will be key to reaching mitigation targets. California has introduced one of the most ambitious net zero building goals, mandating that all new residential and commercial buildings be zero net energy by 2020 and 2030, respectively.


Somewhat surprisingly, emissions from agriculture, forestry, and land use now make up about one-quarter of global emissions and have become priority sectors for carbon reduction measures. New, innovative agriculture strategies and consumption patterns can help to restore soil and land health while also reducing emissions entering the atmosphere. Recognising this, nine US states have put laws in place to mandate reductions in organic (food) waste, with Vermont even placing a state-wide ban on all food waste.

Together these actions show what can be achieved by state and regional governments, and the vital role they have in pushing for higher ambition and faster action from global leaders. As we approach one of the most important ever COPs this year, their example is a good one to follow. They have set out a blueprint for how to tackle climate change and challenge others to do more, across the US and beyond.