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Local Efforts Noble, But Study Shows Scale of Climate Threat Demands 'Heavy Lifting' of National Governments

"The actions of cities, companies, and states aren't insignificant but they can't do it by themselves."

California lawmakers passed a bill this week aiming for 100 percent renewable energy in the state by 2045—but a new study finds local and state efforts aren't enough to combat the climate crisis. (Photo: Diana Robinson/Flickr/cc)

Since President Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris climate agreement in 2017, a number of local governments have taken it upon themselves to meet the deal's requirements to the extent that they can—but a new study finds that while those efforts are admirable and significant for individual states and communities, they are no match for the climate crisis fast accelerating by increased carbon emissions around the world.

Local leaders should continue doing what they can to combat the climate crisis, researchers at Data-Driven Yale found in their study. But until the United States—the world's largest driver of greenhouse gas emissions—is led by a government that prioritize a sharp reduction of carbon emissions and a shift to renewable energy, individual cities' and states' ability to slow the climate crisis will be minimal.

Examining the efforts of nearly 6,000 cities and states and 2,000 businesses—like California's advancement on Tuesday of a 100 percent renewable energy bill—found that those initiatives will only reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 1.5 billion to 2.2 billion metric tons by 2030.


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In contrast, the United States' carbon output last just last year was 5.14 billion metric tons.

"When we look at the individual pledges the impact isn't that large, so we absolutely need national governments to pull through and do a lot of the heavy lifting," Dr. Angel Hsu, director of Data-Driven Yale, told The Guardian. "The actions of cities, companies, and states aren't insignificant but they can't do it by themselves. This shows everyone can be doing more. The current reductions are woefully inadequate and hopefully the actions of other entities will give national governments the confidence to be more ambitious."

The individual actions of forward-thinking governors and mayors, the study suggests, is no match for an administration which refuses to even acknowledge the consensus of 97 percent of climate scientists that human activity is contributing to the climate crisis, and which announced last week a plan under which states would be able to regulate their emissions from coal plants.

"The idea we just tighten our belt a bit isn't going to solve the problem. We need to stop using the atmosphere as a dumping ground, abandon fossil fuels, find other sources of energy and deal with the carbon debt we already have," Klaus Lackner, the director of Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University, told The Guardian.

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