Global leaders in Paris reached a historic agreement last month to limit the worst impacts of climate change. At first blush, the story was about how 195 countries agreed to reduce emissions of dangerous greenhouse gases that are contributing to the frequency and severity of droughts, wildfires and extreme weather.
While presidents and prime ministers made the trip to Paris, their commitments will be made real by the governors, mayors and legislative leaders who implement economy-changing policies at the local level. With congressional action stalled, the U.S. will only be able to meet its goals if states and cities take the lead with policies and innovative investments that accelerate the transition.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was among the participants, and true to form, the governor is working to craft a clean air rule, an ambitious plan to cap and reduce emissions in our state.
He recognizes that capping carbon pollution and building a clean energy economy is good economics and it’s common sense. After a consortium of Northeast states capped emissions from their power sector, they helped create 16,000 new jobs and enjoyed a faster economic recovery than the rest of the country. California created an economy-wide carbon cap in 2006 together with a suite of policies to spur development of clean energy. Four California cities last year ranked in the top 10 in terms of job creation, and the state’s economic growth was 27 percent faster than the national average in 2014.
These real-world examples demonstrate that economies in the regions and states that act on smart climate policies can thrive and actually out-perform the rest of the economy.
Washington should be at the leading edge of this transition, which is why we’re such strong supporters of Gov. Inslee’s commitment to advance a smart carbon-reduction plan. The governor is acting to enforce existing state law, and if other states are any guide, this policy can’t come fast enough.
But it’s also crucial that the clean air rule is strong and drives actual pollution reductions. If the rule allows too much flexibility we run the risk that companies can merely buy their way out of compliance with ineffective projects. Worse, a weak rule sends a signal to innovators that could hold back the kind of aggressive investment in clean energy that other regions with strong standards have enjoyed, thereby cutting the economic development potential of these policies.
Paris showed that the best ideas for cutting carbon often come from cities and states and percolate up to national governments. We have faith that when the rule is finalized it will be exactly what we need. If it’s done right, Washington has the opportunity to lead the transition to a new, clean economy.
Vlad Gutman is Washington director for Olympia-based Climate Solutions, and Adrienne Alvord is western states director in Oakland for the Union of Concerned Scientists.