Author: Diana Tarrazo

Canada and Climate Change Conversations

On the penultimate night of the COP, I went out to a farewell dinner with my client, the Climate Registry. There, I got the chance to speak with Neil Cunningham, Director of Energy and Climate Change for the Government of Manitoba, a province bordering North Dakota and Minnesota.

Image from:

Manitoba on a map of Canada. Image from:

The province, as I soon learned, generates the majority of its energy from the province’s abundant supply of water. In fact, in the province, nearly 80 percent of electricity is produced via hydroelectric generating stations on the Nelson River in northern Manitoba.[1] The excess energy that this province produces is then sold in several other Canadian provinces and in the mid-western United States.

While talking to Neil Cunningham, it became clear that for Manitoba, hydropower just made sense—the province has ample rivers in which a generating station can be placed and the energy produced is both clean and economical. Last January, Manitoba and Alberta signed a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding on Renewable Energy and Climate Change Initiatives, putting pen to the provinces’ plans to prioritize improving electrical grid integration to facilitate the sale of hydroelectricity from east to west.[2] As we, as a global society, look to diversity our energy portfolio, hydroelectric will likely be an important part of the mix in towns that, like Manitoba, are situated near rivers.

Now, the majority of the conversations I’ve had in the past two week have devolved, in one way or another, into conversations regarding American politics. And as I was speaking with Neil, and by this time a small group of other subnational climate change officials including several at the California Department of State, the conversation, once again, took that familiar turn. However, unlike in previous conversations, I got to hear a Canadian’s perspective—and this perspective gave me optimism for the next four years of American climate change policy.

Before the beloved Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, there was Stephen Harper (Prime Minister from 2009 to 2015).

Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Photo from:

Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Photo from:

Conservative and with a soft spot for tar sands expansion[3], Harper was largely disinterested in addressing climate change. And in the face of a lagging central government, subnational actors came to the forefront with some of Canada’s most ambitious climate change policies.

When Canada’s federal government was slow to develop a greenhouse monitoring and emissions reduction plan, several provinces established sizeable programs within their respective territories. British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, for example, joined the Western Climate Initiative to support the implementation of state and provincial greenhouse gas emissions trading programs.[4] Then in 2014, Quebec linked its own cap-and-trade system with California under the Western Climate Initiative.[5] Similarly, in 2007, the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation in Alberta put a price on carbon in the province, and a year later, Alberta released its Climate Change Action Plan.[6]

Ontario, which is Canada’s most populated province, released its climate action plan in 2007. Photo from:

Ontario, which is Canada’s most populated province, released its climate action plan in 2007. Photo from:

For its part, Ontario, which is Canada’s most populated province[7], released its climate action plan in 2007.[8] The plan established three primary targets: a six percent reduction in emissions by 2014, a 15 percent reduction by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. The government also committed to reporting annually on the actions it is taking to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.[9]

While we don’t know what America’s climate change action will look like in the following four years, examples from Canada illustrate that weak Federal government policies doesn’t mean stagnation. Rather, it means that progress must be made creatively and through a patchwork of subnational action. This election may not create climate progress, but it can create room where subnational actors can flourish and forge ahead.


[1] ManitobaHydro. (n.d.). Producing electricity. Retrieved November 25, 2016, from

[2] Government of Alberta. (2016, January 8). Alberta and Manitoba sign MOU on shared energy and climate change priorities: Selinger, Notley. Retrieved November 25, 2016, from

[3] Barlow, M., & Klein, N. (2015, October 16). Stephen Harper’s politics put Canada to shame: Don’t be distracted by them | Naomi Klein and Maude Barlow. Retrieved November 25, 2016, from

[4] Western Climate Initiative. (n.d.). Western Climate Initiative. Retrieved November 25, 2016, from

[5] Office of the Premier. (2016, August 31). Ontario Working with Québec and Mexico to Advance Carbon Markets. Retrieved November 25, 2016, from

[6] Specified Gas Emitters Regulation. (2007). Climate Change and Emissions Management Act. Retrieved November 25, 2016, from

[7] Government of Canada. (2016). Population by year, by province and territory (Number). Retrieved November 25, 2016, from

[8] Government of Ontario. (2007, August). Go Green: Ontario’s Action Plan on Climate Change. Retrieved November 25, 2016, from

[9] Government of Ontario. (2007, August). Go Green: Ontario’s Action Plan on Climate Change. Retrieved November 25, 2016, from

Finding Optimism Amid the Fog: Subnational Climate Ambition

I wasn’t sure what to expect this week in Marrakech, particularly coming out of the fog that was the United States election last week. The majority of the side events I’ve attended this week had at least some reference to the election, or the new Trump Administration coming in. However, I’ve found that these discussions have been largely optimistic—something that I found surprising.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech at COP22 on November 16.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech at COP22 on November 16. (Photo from:

During a meeting with my client, the Climate Registry, I heard from Karen Florini, the Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change at the U.S. Department of State, who said, “The Paris Agreement will be moving forward with or without the United States. The governing question has now become whether the United States will stay at the table to negotiate.” What’s more, the general sentiment I’ve felt while attending side events and meetings has been that subnational authorities will continue to put their best foot forward, regardless of who occupies the halls of the white house. Indeed, strong subnational action will be needed more in the next four years than ever before. Because of ambitious work by subnational actors, we may be able to reach national carbon targets irrespective of what the national government does.

I attended several talks by Deborah Markowitz, the Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, who spoke to Vermont’s subnational climate action. She also pointed to the 8 years of lack of climate action under the Bush Administration, when Oregon, Washington, and California took the reigns and began to implement determined energy efficiency standards and policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency standards, and implement more green energy infrastructure.

After attending her talk, among others, I’ve come to believe that it’s truly state government where the rubber meets the road. This is, in part, a result of America’s system of cooperative federalism, where state and local governments interact cooperatively and collectively to address common problems. For environmental regulations, this often means that states are somewhat independent with respect to environmental regulations, and indeed, can implement policies that take Federal standards a step further. Succinctly, my take away from this week has been that states have their own authority and commitments, and are working together to address climate change. Of course, there are limitations to a fragmented, more bottom-up climate regime (how far reaching can a California’s carbon market be, for example, if other states do not join?), but I find a lot of optimism in the state action I’ve learned about this week, particularly in California, Vermont, and Washington.

Presentation: What do Cities, States and Regions Need to Deliver on 1.5 Degrees?

Presentation: What do Cities, States and Regions Need to Deliver on 1.5 Degrees?

In one of the presentations on subnational actors that I attended, someone posed a question to a panel of subnational climate representatives: “What are some of the tactics you’ve been using to encourage other states that are more hesitant to act to join the fight against climate change?” I thought this was an excellent question—one that is central to the subnational fight against climate change. It seems that one of the primary limitations to subnational action is that their work, by virtue of the fact that its on a much smaller scale, cannot be as extensive. So how do we get other states to join? The responses that the panelists gave all seemed to revolve around the economy—that is, that economic prosperity and lowering emissions are not mutually exclusive. California is a great example of this. Not only is it the number one carbon reducing state in the United States, but in it’s fight against greenhouse gasses it’s also improved its economy. I hope that in the coming years, more states will implement their own clean energy and energy efficient policies, if not primarily to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then to improve their economies.

Last week, I was incredibly worried about the United States’s climate change prospects. While I wouldn’t say I feel completely confident now, coming out of Marrakech I’ve certainly found more hope. States are increasingly coming into the forefront of climate action, and in doing so, several have demonstrated that it is possible and feasible to improve the economy while tackling greenhouse gasses. Of course, strong subnational action should be a complement to, rather than a replacement for, strong national action, but I’m looking for optimism where I can find it.

A Look at California – A Golden Example of Subnational Climate Action

Image courtesy of the UNFCCC, via Flickr.

Negotiators gathered at COP21 in December, 2015. Image courtesy of the UNFCCC, via Flickr.

While the international Paris agreement marked a leap in our global community’s efforts to tackle climate change, a lot of work still needs to be done. We know that, on their own, the Paris agreement and countries’ intended nationally determined contributions won’t not be enough to limit global warming to below 2 degrees. This means that what goes on at the subnational level is increasingly important. And these subnational governments, ranging from cities to provinces and regions, are increasingly looking to get a stake in climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Action from subnational government can complement the outcomes of Paris, and ramp up climate change action and ambition. In fact, according to the United Nations Development Program, 50 to 80 percent of the mitigation and adaptation efforts necessary to tackle climate change will be implemented at the subnational or local levels.

Subnational governments are uniquely suited to address climate change for several reasons. For one, many of the policies that have the most direct impact on climate change—like air quality, transportation, and energy efficiency—take place at the local or subnational levels, and have direct implications for greenhouse gas emissions levels. Subnational government can also act as policy “guinea pigs,” testing novel policies that may later be adopted at the national or perhaps even international levels. These governments are also in a unique position in that they can work as a link in the vertical integration of climate policies between local and national governments.

Image from CA Employment Office (

California’s government is a subnational climate leader. Image from CA Employment Office (

California’s government is among the subnational governments taking ambitious climate action, setting some of the most aggressive policies in the United States. In 2006, California passed AB32, also known as the California Global Warming Solutions Act. This bill commits California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. That’s a reduction of about 15 percent below the state’s “business as usual” scenario.

The bill also established policies to achieve these emissions reductions—among them, a cap-and-trade program. This cap-and-trade program was linked with Quebec’s cap-and-trade program counterpart in 2014, and was expanded to include fuels in 2015. Based on the amount of emissions covered, California’s cap and trade is second in size only to the European Union’s Emissions Trading system.

And just last year, Governor Brown announced another emission reduction target that takes the previous target a step further. The new targets set a goal of slashing emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels. This goal was complemented by a series of other goals, including increasing from one-third to 50 percent of the State’s electricity from renewable sources. This sunny state is also planning on reducing current petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent, and doubling the efficiency of existing buildings.

Photo from the California Energy Commission (

California plans on sourcing 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources. Photo from the California Energy Commission (

California’s also taken its efforts internationally. The Golden State has implemented bilateral and multilateral initiatives with Mexico, Ontario, Japan, the Netherlands, Peru, and China. And through its Pacific Coast Collaborative, California is working with its neighbors in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia to advance carbon pricing, zero-emission vehicles, building energy efficiency, and climate-resilient infrastructure.

While an individual state alone can’t tackle climate change, collective subnational climate action is increasingly important to meet our climate change goals. We need ambitious climate action from subnational governments, like California’s, to complement and augment the Paris agreement.


  • Barnes, Aimee. “Subnational Climate Leadership: California’s Efforts on …” The Stanley Foundation. N.p., 27 May 2015. Web. 8 Nov. 2016.
  • California Air Resources Board. “Assembly Bill 32 Overview.” Assembly Bill 32. N.p., 5 Aug. 2014. Web. 08 Nov. 2016.
  • Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. “California Cap and Trade.” Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. N.p., Jan. 2014. Web. 08 Nov. 2016.
  • State of California. “California Climate Strategy.” California Government. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Nov. 2016.
  • “National and Subnational Strategies.” United Nations Development Programme. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Nov. 2016.

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