By Kim Tyrrell and Riley Hutchings
As state legislatures continue to deal with the impact of changing weather patterns that are producing increasingly ferocious hurricanes, tornados, snowstorms and wildfires, climate conferences such as COP24 can highlight additional factors to be considered during legislative debates.
Since 1992, when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was ratified, parties to it have met in a new city each year to negotiate agreements, exchange ideas, announce progress or renew commitments.
Between Dec. 3 and Dec. 16, 2018, 30,000 people gathered in Katowice, Poland, for the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP24) to negotiate details of the Paris Agreement, which was ratified in 2015 at COP21.
The Paris Agreement provides a framework for its 198 signatories, including the United States, to approach mitigation, adaptation, finance and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Paris Agreement, parties committed to submitting Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) every five years that outline specific targets and timetables according to common but differentiated responsibilities and each nation’s respective capabilities. Negotiating teams at COP24 set out to finalize a rulebook that would set detailed guidelines for parties to write their NDCs.
Although the U.S. announced its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in June 2017, it remains a party to the agreement until Nov. 4, 2020, at the earliest because of stipulations in the text. The U.S. sent an official delegation of 35 people to COP24, which consisted of scientists, foreign service officers, environmental lawyers and communications specialists. Judith Garber, principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the Department of State, led the delegation.
Taken in whole, the events of COP24 have widespread social and economic implications for states, regardless of whether the U.S. remains a party to the Paris Agreement.
Key considerations for states
- Changes in the climate affect affordable access to clean water, nutritious food, reliable energy and resilient infrastructure.
- Indigenous nations and low-income and minority populations are likely to be the first and most severely hurt by changes in the environment.
- The global movement to mitigate and adapt to anticipated changes in the environment is influencing government policies in at least 198 countries. States will be affected by those policies as standards, preferences and entire markets change.
- As grids transition toward variable energy sources, they must continue to provide reliable and affordable electricity.
- U.S. Energy Administration data reveals that in 2016, 78 percent of U.S. energy subsidies went to fossil fuels, a number that has steadily risen since 2010. If other countries continue to incentivize renewable adoption and global use of fossil fuels declines, economic growth could be stunted.
Several states have taken steps to address some of these key considerations. For example:
Arizona’s House and Senate chambers have current resolutions pending that call for members of the legislature to commit to working constructively with the governor to create and support economically viable and broadly supported private and public solutions to manage climate change, including in rural communities. The resolution calls on the state to prioritize its understanding and use of science to address the causes of a changing climate and support innovation and environmental stewardship to realize positive outcomes.
In Nebraska, Legislative Bill 83 (2019) calls on the University of Nebraska to develop an evidence-based, data-driven, strategic action plan to provide methods for adapting to and mitigating the impacts of climate change.
As states face the uncertainties of a changing climate, collecting and analyzing data may help guide investments in mitigation and adaptation.
Kim Tyrrell is director of NCSL’s Environment Program. Riley Hutchings is a senior at Colorado College and former NCSL intern.