As I write this the world has wrapped up international climate talks in Egypt. The United States brought to COP27 in Egypt the historic Inflation Reduction Act, which Congress passed this summer, as evidence of our renewed participation with the rest of the world on climate action.
The Inflation Reduction Act—which my colleague Dr. Rachel Cleetus describes as a bright moment of hope—is the most significant step Congress has ever taken to address climate change.
States are critical to global and US success
“It’s not going to be enough for the federal government to push money out the door and be hands off about it,” Dr. Cleetus states. “We need to have states now actively seeking on behalf of their constituents that money so that it gets to the right places.”
Let Dr. Cleetus’ last statement sink in: the science, solutions, and paths forward are well documented—therefore state and local decisions on deploying the resources really, really matter.
Last week I shared the results of a report by Jo Field and Miriam Silverman Israel, two fellows at the University of New Hampshire Sustainability Institute Fellowships program, who teamed up with UCS to assess climate action progress in each of the six New England states. They found much more work must be done, and quickly, if the region is to meet and overcome the challenges climate change is foisting upon its communities, industries, and natural habitats. Field and Israel were energized by the swift progress in Maine since 2018, noting, “it is possible to work towards climate resilience quickly and effectively.” Conversely, they noted that New Hampshire is seriously lagging on climate action, and unperturbed by New Hampshire’s lack of climate ambition.
On the heels of a global climate conference that suggested few countries have serious plans in place to meet net zero emissions goals by 2050-60, state and local governments will play an outsized role in realizing the Inflation Reduction Act’s blueprint for climate progress. Indeed, each state must punch above its weight.
On paper at least most New England states appear ready
Connecticut has an Office of Climate Planning. Rhode Island has the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council. Maine’s Climate Council sits in the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation of the Future. Massachusetts has a Director of Climate Adaptation and Resilience in the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. New Hampshire has a webpage and a state climate action plan largely ignored for thirteen years. Vermont has a Climate Action Office. Field and Israel suggest three challenges common to all six states:
1- Adaptation and mitigation efforts are largely siloed from each other;
2- The prospects for inappropriate adaptation are very real; and
3- All six states aligned least with the Framework’s Equity and Community Needs principles.
Use Field’s and Israel’s report to set expectations for climate action
The New England State Climate Action Assessment serves as a signal to the public and state lawmakers alike. (Only have a minute? Then I encourage readers to look at Table 1, the State-by-State Framework Analysis Results, on page 9 of their report.)
Now that elections are over, decision makers have been handed a mandate with the Inflation Reduction Act to take measures to slow climate change and make their state better able to resist and curtail the most harmful impacts. The best way policy makers can do so is to seize these climate and clean energy opportunities. UCS research from earlier this year shows states can reliably meet 100 percent of their electricity needs with renewable energy.
New Englanders can use the Fellows’ report as an opening to communicate expectations with their lawmakers. It’s critical that we speak up and stress to our new and reelected local and state represented leaders that the transitions in state governments must include specific and robust climate goals and actions, that New England’s six incoming governors have a responsibility to lead significant and transformative climate action in their respective states, and do so equitably and fairly, and that the region’s governors must step up and take every advantage offered in the Inflation Reduction Act as well as in the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
It’s up to all of us to hold governors accountable
Let’s make certain every New England governor includes a specific call to action on climate resilience in their 2023 inaugural address. Let’s make certain they commit to leading their state and the country by example.
Demand climate funding from state legislators
It’s budget drafting season in your state capitol. We need to tell our legislators they must appropriately fund state initiatives and programs that reduce heat trapping emissions, thereby helping to slow the pace of climate change, and prepare us for the impacts of a changing climate to which we are already committed, and narrow their state’s resilience gap.