USA from space at night with city lights showing American cities in United States, global overview of North America, 3d rendering of planet Earth, elements from NASA
Moving from a “Whole-of-Government” to a “Whole-of-Society” National Climate Strategy
Under the new Biden-Harris Administration, climate action once again has a place in federal policy. On day one, President Biden took action to return the country to the Paris Agreement and just a week later, he signed a robust executive order focused on the climate crisis. As we come out of four years of nonexistent—if not counterproductive—federal climate policy, the new administration is filling the void by taking immediate and decisive action.
This is great news.
In addition to returning the United States to the Paris Agreement negotiating table, the president’s executive actions have made progress in several important areas. These include emphasizing environmental justice across all federal agencies, asking the Senate to ratify the Montreal Protocol’s Kigali Amendment to phase down HFC emissions, pausing new federal leases to oil and gas companies, and removing international finance and subsidies for fossil fuels.
President Biden also announced that the United States will host world leaders at a climate summit on Earth Day—April 22. And by establishing the National Climate Task Force—which brings together leaders across 21 federal agencies and departments—it enshrines a “whole-of-government” approach to combatting the climate crisis.
But a “whole-of-government” approach is not enough. It is time to go all in.
An All-In Approach to Climate Action
The Biden-Harris Administration’s whole-of-government approach will need to be coupled with a whole-of-society approach for us to reach our ambitious goals of 50% emissions reduction by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050. These are the targets needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. And research shows that these goals are not only necessary, but also within reach.
To mark the United States’ formal re-entry to the Paris Agreement, on February 19 American leaders in states, cities, businesses, and other non-federal entities launched America is All In. This initiative champions a whole-of-society mobilization that can deliver the transformational change needed to enable a healthy, prosperous, equitable, and sustainable future. White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy and US Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry joined the launch event, signaling their commitment to partner with non-federal leaders on climate action.
Over the coming months and years, the coalition will facilitate deep collaboration between non-federal leaders and the federal government, while accelerating climate progress at all levels of society. By empowering and supporting these non-federal leaders, the federal government can increase climate ambition, restore international trust, and improve the overall robustness of US national climate policy.
A Whole-of-Society NDC
While there are many things the federal government and America Is All In coalition can collaborate on, the most urgent—and also critically important—item is the updated US Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). This is the country’s climate pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is required to be a party to the Paris Agreement. The Biden-Harris administration has set a self-imposed deadline of April 22 for the United States to submit its updated NDC, aligned with Earth Day and the announced Leaders’ Climate Summit, which means NDC development is moving fast.
Integrating Key NDC Implementers
While the NDC is a climate commitment submitted by national governments at the international level, much of the climate action required to achieve it will happen in communities, cities, states, and businesses across the country. These subnational entities are valuable test beds for new and innovative climate solutions; with a lower barrier to implementation, new programs, technologies, and policies are constantly being piloted at the state and local level. Lessons and best practices can then be leveraged to scale these innovations to other localities or nationally though the federal government.
Moreover, the federal system affords subnational leaders direct authority over many sectors related to climate action that may not be under the purview of the federal government. For example, Arizona recently passed regulation to require 100% clean energy in the state by 2050. And cities in California have played key roles in transforming building codes to push for all-electric new buildings.
Instilling International Trust
Through coalitions like America Is All In’s predecessor We Are Still In, along with US Climate Alliance, Climate Mayors, We Mean Business, and others, the subnational climate movement maintained momentum even as the country withdrew from the Paris Agreement. This continued action can enable the new administration to strike a balance between being credible and adequately ambitious.
By incorporating input from subnational leaders, the federal government could submit a holistic NDC that is representative of a whole-of-society approach—something few other countries have done. This would serve as an example for other countries to similarly integrate the impact of subnational action, resulting in increased global ambition.
Increasing Durability of Action
As the administration develops a new NDC over the coming weeks, stakeholder consultations with a broad group of non-federal leaders to gather input and increase buy-in will be crucial. This would enable the United States to put forward a realistic, ambitious, and robust climate target, while rebuilding trust among the international community. And importantly, embedding climate action throughout our society would ensure continued action even if the executive branch were to flip once again.
Non-federal actors have led the fight against climate change, especially over the past four years. In doing so, these leaders have kept up momentum and provided the new administration with a solid foundation for a new national climate policy and commitment. Having pledged to go “all in” on climate action, these non-federal leaders not only deserve a seat at the table but are essential to our continued climate progress. To reap the full benefits, the federal government must quickly build on their “whole-of-government” approach to the climate crisis to establish a coordinated, “whole-of-society” approach.
For more information on America Is All In and to join the coalition, visit www.americaisallin.com.