Global Problem, Global Solution… Right?

One would think that if you have a global problem that there is always (and perhaps only) a global solution. But that way of looking at climate change has become naive and does not allow you to see the entire picture. So often we see states, provinces, and other subnational entities leading the charge with innovative climate policy and initiatives while the national governments sit back arguing over whether or not climate change is really even a problem. Despite the annual COPs, the UNFCCC stage for negotiations, and bilateral discussions (such as the one between US and China), national and international policies are very behind what these subnational actors have been doing for years.

I am not saying that climate change can be solved by a few states in America by creating an Emissions Trading Scheme. If only a few subnational actors make moves to combat climate change, the emissions reductions will never be large enough to solve our problem. But, what I am saying is that someone has to begin to make moves or we won’t ever see a solution. And, historically, it hasn’t been the national governments (or international agreements) that have taken the first steps towards a solution to climate change – it has been the subnational actors. To name just a few:

  • British Columbia has implemented a carbon tax in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are a part of the Pacific Coast Collaborative Agreement with four other subnational parties.
  • California has consistently established itself as a leader in environmental protection, as it has much to lose from the effects of climate change. California has many standards and programs in place, but the most notable is likely the cap-and-trade program established by Assembly Bill 32, and recent linkage with Quebec. These linked programs just successfully held their first joint auction preceding COP20.
  • China has begun implementing pilot cap-and-trade programs in certain provinces, and if successful, might lead to a national cap-and-trade program in 2016.

As I was listening to the subnational leaders speak at the COP this week, I began to wonder why we even try so hard to get a global agreement if the implementation and practical solutions come from the local actors instead of national political leaders. But then, I realized: You can’t solve climate change alone and you can’t solve climate change in an annual conference. What needs to happen, instead of ignoring either the international or local roles in the fight against climate change, is a union between all of these subnational groups to combine their efforts on an international level to reach the same goal; essentially, working in tandem.

The international and subnational approaches to climate change should not conflict with each other but they also play different roles. The relationship between these methods should be more of a push-pull relationship and where one lacks the other leads. Subnational actors have led the charge with innovative policy solutions to climate change but they cannot fight the problem alone. For those countries who cannot be influenced by subnational groups, we also have the international community influencing how we deal with climate change. If these two approaches were to work in tandem, global climate change would be that much easier to protect ourselves against. The international agreement, then, becomes more than just an agreement between nations. An international agreement is the platform for which national and local actors can build upon to implement real effective solutions that are right for their own people.

So, you see? We need a global agreement. This is a global problem, which requires a global effort and a universal solution. Okay, let’s say we do get a solid agreement out of COP21 in Paris. This would be fantastic. But, we need to continue to look beyond the agreement: we need each and every local, indigenous, state, subnational, and national party to act or we will not be able to stand a chance against climate change. That said, I think my last post requires a title change. How about: Global Problem, Global Solution, Local Action.