America’s Pledge Reveals U.S. States, Cities, and Businesses Accelerated Their Climate Progress Despite Trump, Global Pandemic, and Economic Downturn
September 14, 2020
Fourth annual analysis from America’s Pledge shows:
- Bottom-up climate leadership has kept the U.S. on a path of climate progress; post-election federal leadership can put America back in alignment with the Paris Agreement
- Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and recession, states, cities, and businesses are taking action on climate
- Past America’s Pledge analysis shows that ambitious state, city, and business action can reduce emissions up to 37% by 2030 with or without help from Washington
- Due to unprecedented leadership from non-federal actors, strong market forces, and overwhelming demand, the U.S. has passed a tipping point in its clean energy transition
NEW YORK, NY — Today, America’s Pledge co-chairs, former California Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. and Michael R. Bloomberg, Founder, Bloomberg LP & Bloomberg Philanthropies, and three-term Mayor of New York City, unveiled America’s Pledge’s fourth analysis, which finds that despite the past four years of environmental rollbacks from President Trump’s administration, non-federal actors have successfully counterbalanced the climate denial and obstruction from the White House. This has made it possible for the U.S. to reach net zero emissions by 2050 with aggressive federal climate re-engagement in 2021.
The unique circumstances of the past year demanded two separate analyses from America’s Pledge to determine the state of bottom-up climate leadership in the U.S.: an impact analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic on our future climate and energy outlook, titled Delivering on America’s Pledge: Achieving Climate Progress in 2020, as well as an assessment of U.S. climate progress from states, cities, and businesses throughout the past three years, titled We Are Still In to Deliver on America’s Pledge: A Retrospective, published in partnership with the We Are Still In coalition.
“Despite the president’s decision to walk away from the Paris Agreement, and despite four years of environmental rollbacks and climate denialism coming from the federal government, the latest America’s Pledge report shows that cities, states, and businesses continue making progress by working together and leading from the bottom up,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bloomberg LP, three-term Mayor of New York City, and America’s Pledge co-chair. “But the report also shows that we could be doing much more, much faster, with leadership from the White House – which is why this November’s election is the most important yet in the fight against climate change.”
“With fires ravaging the western United States like never before, and a President in deep climate denial, America’s Pledge is showing the way,” said Jerry Brown, former Governor of California and America’s Pledge co-chair. “States, cities, and businesses are taking action and sounding the alarm. Nothing is more important than reversing the damaging carbon emissions undermining our future.”
Even the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic recession have not slowed climate progress from states, cities, and businesses. This year’s analysis shows that despite these challenges, the U.S. has reached an irreversible tipping point in its clean energy transition, due to unprecedented, bold actions from U.S. state and local leaders, a pivotal shift in market forces, and overwhelming public demand.
Delivering on America’s Pledge: Achieving Climate Progress in 2020 also outlines the ways in which a COVID recovery package that includes sector-specific investments — such as grid modernization, electric transit, zero-emissions buildings, end-of-life refrigerant disposal, and support for low-income and impacted communities — could create a stronger economy with more jobs, cleaner air, and cheaper energy for Americans.
The analysis further emphasizes that, despite positive momentum and market signals, a massive, coordinated effort from both the federal government and non-federal entities is still needed to deploy clean solutions at the speed and scale necessary to achieve the targets that scientists have warned are necessary to avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change.
Among other findings, key toplines include:
- Over the past three years, in the face of opposition from the federal government, U.S. non-federal leaders have doubled down on cross-sector climate action that is helping reduce emissions from the bottom-up. Today, one in three Americans lives in a jurisdiction committed to 100% clean electricity; three years ago, only Hawaii and 33 cities had committed to 100% clean electricity. Up from zero, 16 states have passed or committed to pass regulations and legislation that would phase down the use of HFCs, a potent greenhouse gas. And in three years, the electric vehicle market has doubled.
- The global pandemic and economic recession have not impeded bottom-up climate action. America’s Pledge identifies five key sectors with the greatest 2030 emission reduction opportunities: electricity, transportation, buildings, methane, and HFCs. Confidence in these sectors’ ability to drive ambitious 2030 emission reductions has increased, with the exception of buildings, in which confidence has remained unchanged.
- The U.S. is moving towards 100% clean electricity. Due to the strong economic fundamentals of clean energy, electricity generation is continuing to shift away from coal and towards renewables, indicating that we have passed a tipping point in the energy transition. While the pandemic and economic downturn have slowed some renewables projects and clean energy legislation, new action and commitments by states, cities, and businesses are likely to continue to drive progress over the next decade.
- In the transportation sector, accelerated progress on medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles and the potential for long-term reductions in miles driven are expected to outweigh current negative public transit trends. As the country adjusts to a “new normal” following the pandemic, changes in behavior around remote working and e-commerce could permanently decrease U.S. passenger travel by 10%. In addition, states have announced goals that would rapidly accelerate emissions reductions from medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. And light-duty emissions rules, zero-emission vehicle standards, and electric vehicle sales are proving to be about on par with last year’s analysis. Public transit agencies will need significant support in upcoming economic recovery and stimulus packages to restore and maintain service while protecting riders and drivers.
- The oil and gas industry — the leading cause of methane emissions — faces pressure from recent price shocks and reduced long-term demand expectations. Demand, production, and investment have declined significantly as a result of near-term price shocks, and the long-term market outlook has weakened amid global oversupply and increasing policy and industry support for vehicle electrification. If continued, these trends would substantially reduce the potential for methane emissions from new sources. Key risks and uncertainties remain as regulatory trends continue to be patchwork and emissions from existing sources, particularly from idle and abandoned wells, appear to be on the rise.
- Recent trends are unlikely to have significant long-term impacts on building energy use. Some jurisdictions are increasing investments in efficiency to address the economic hardships brought on by the pandemic. In other jurisdictions, COVID-19 and the economic downturn have stalled program implementation, financial investments, and policy enactment. Efforts to electrify new and existing buildings have continued to grow, though electrification policies have met with political resistance in some states.
- States and businesses are driving reductions of super-polluting hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Sixteen states have now passed or proposed HFC policies, businesses are investing in climate-friendly refrigeration and air conditioning solutions, and industry is pushing for federal legislation requiring phasedowns of high-global warming potential HFCs. These trends are likely to outweigh the negative impact of recent regulatory rollbacks at the federal level and result in HFC emissions reductions that exceed ambitious expectations from a year ago.
The climate crisis plays a unique role in the current political moment. As we battle a global pandemic, strive for racial justice, and reckon with a widespread economic downturn, the public is increasingly seeing the need for climate action to help solve each of these challenges. Ranked as a top-tier issue among voters for the first time in American history, climate change has galvanized a widespread movement — popularizing Green New Deal legislation, inspiring a new generation, and urging a green, equitable, and just recovery from COVID-19.
America’s Pledge has led on groundbreaking assessments of the impacts of non-federal action on the overall U.S. emissions trajectory. In past reports, America’s Pledge pioneered a new methodology that aggregated non-federal commitments and integrated them into its globally leading modeling strategy that allows for robust assessment of the diverse actions of cities, businesses, and all 50 states — all linked to market forces and the global economy. This approach to analyzing climate action from the bottom-up has allowed America’s Pledge to deliver some of the most comprehensive analyses of current commitments and potential actions on U.S. emissions to date.
“Through its policy of inclusive multilateralism, UN Climate Change has long encouraged cities, communities, investors, private businesses, and civil society to be involved in efforts to address climate change,” said UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa. “This results in more ideas, more solutions, more climate action; and this is reflected in America’s Pledge. We continue to call upon public and private sectors throughout the world to work together to build a clean, green, healthy and more sustainable future for all people.”
“The climate crisis is not slowing down, even in the face of economic uncertainty and a deadly pandemic. We feel its effects in the record heat and intensifying wildfires now scorching the West even as drought persists. California, along with many other states, is driving climate solutions that work across economic sectors and address public health, and point the way to a cleaner, healthier future for our country,” said Mary D. Nichols, Chair, California Air Resources Board and vice-chair of America’s Pledge. “This is why I am encouraged as vice-chair for America’s Pledge that this year’s results show how with continued state action and federal re-engagement, the U.S. can couple economic stimulus with climate policy and reduce its emissions in line with the targets science demands.”
“Since the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, the climate movement has agonized over whether the clean energy transition would, in Shakespeare’s phrasing, take the tide of events ‘at the flood that leads on to fortune,’” said Carl Pope, vice-chair of America’s Pledge. “The devastating tragedy of Covid-19 appeared designed to derail decarbonization. Yet, when America’s Pledge measured its likely long-term impact, American society is staying the course, moving off of fossil fuels irrevocably and on to a clean energy future. If the pandemic couldn’t even slow clean energy, it’s hard to see what could.”
“We’re seeing the impacts of climate change all around us, and it’s more urgent than ever that we take bold action to address it,” said Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo. “I’m proud that the Ocean State is a national leader on climate change, from our pioneering work on offshore wind, to our efforts around energy efficiency, to our ambitious goal of becoming the first state in America with a 100% renewable electric grid by 2030. As the Trump administration continues to turn back the clock on climate progress, governors and mayors are leading the way to a cleaner, greener future.”
“Tribal Nations recognize the apocalyptic climate challenges facing our generation, including a global pandemic, rising sea level, melting glaciers, and mega fires are mere symptoms of a much deeper imbalance that began centuries ago,” said Fawn Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians. “We have long known this day of reckoning would come and are deeply honored to stand with America’s Pledge and the We Are Still In movement to do our part to ensure the next seven generations live in a clean, healthy, and sustainable world.”
“It will take all of us to turn the tides of the climate crisis, but we won’t wait for Washington to step up to the plate,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “The America’s Pledge report reminds us that we cannot afford the consequences of inaction and delay – and that cities, businesses, young people, and residents must continue to drive the changes that will reimagine a future of sustainability and equity.”
“Charlotte continues to lead the way with our efforts to address climate change, from electrification of our fleet, to investing in solar energy, to building a city where walking, biking, and public transit are options for all of our residents,” said Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles. “We will not pass this issue onto the next generation, and as the Mayor of a City of nearly one million people, we must take action. It’s too important to the health and environment of people who call Charlotte home.”
“I welcome this year’s America’s Pledge analysis, which shows just how much states, cities, and businesses are doing to advance climate progress,” said Nigel Topping, UN High Level Climate Champion for the UK. “This momentum has never been more important. We have a decade to reduce emissions by at least 50% and we all have a role to play. Thanks to governors, mayors, business leaders, and many others, we are pushing forward to ensure a climate-safe and resilient future for all.”
“Although the impacts of COVID-19 have spared no industry, the America’s Pledge report shows us that leading U.S. businesses are doubling down efforts on climate action. Americans are seeing the connection between public health and climate change, and businesses are calling on policymakers for a recovery that builds a cleaner, safer and more inclusive future for America with good jobs, reduced emissions and greater resiliency,” said María Mendiluce, CEO of the We Mean Business coalition. “It is encouraging to see this climate leadership from Corporate America in 2020 because we cannot lose time in the race to net-zero emissions.”
“America’s Pledge shows that bottom-up climate leadership has accomplished unprecedented progress confronting the climate crisis during a federal leadership vacuum, COVID-19, and the economic recession. These efforts deserve tremendous praise,” said Jules Kortenhorst, CEO, Rocky Mountain Institute. “And we also recognize that to address the climate crisis in the time remaining, this bottom-up momentum must increase and expand, and the federal leadership needed to unite America’s collective efforts must now emerge. We are ready.”
“This year’s analysis demonstrates the strength and resilience of America’s states, cities, businesses and universities as they continue to drive innovative climate solutions despite the challenges of 2020,” said Robert Orr, Dean, University of Maryland School of Public Policy. “We at the University of Maryland are proud to have been a part of America’s Pledge from the beginning and applaud everyone’s efforts in delivering the ambitious climate action that this moment demands.”
“While the world faces many challenges, the climate crisis shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, the dire consequences of a warming world are on vivid display by the fires in the U.S. West,” said Andrew Steer, President and CEO, World Resources Institute. “New analysis from America’s Pledge clearly shows that states, cities, and businesses are continuing to tackle climate change even during these difficult times. Of course, the federal government is sadly missing in action. It’s well past time for the federal government to partner with states, cities and businesses to accelerate America’s transition to a clean, thriving economy.”
About America’s Pledge
In the wake of President Trump’s initial announcement that he planned to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement in June 2017, an unprecedented number of U.S. cities, states, businesses, and universities reaffirmed their commitment to help America reach its Paris climate goals. Whether through declarations like We Are Still In or new pledges and commitments of their own, these bottom-up actors are maintaining U.S. momentum on climate action in the absence of federal leadership. In July 2017, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Action and three-term Mayor of New York City Michael R. Bloomberg and California Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. launched America’s Pledge, an initiative to aggregate and quantify the actions by U.S. states, cities, businesses, and other non-federal actors to drive down their greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Since its launch, America’s Pledge has published annual assessments of non-federal action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions based on a unique methodological approach developed by climate researchers and policy experts. To learn more about America’s Pledge, please visit http://americaspledgeonclimate.org.