Climate Change | Other Publication

Scaling Up: Local to Global Climate Action

December 2015


Nonstate and subnational actors are undertaking ambitious initiatives designed to cut carbon emissions and promote clean development. These actions occur alongside official, state-centric negotiation processes, and the impressive results are garnering international attention. These programs have the potential to raise national ambition; spur additional mitigation, adaptation, and climate financing; and inject an emphasis on solution-directed efforts into the public dialogue on climate change.

Many of these nonstate efforts surpass national climate policies and actions in scope and ambition. However, data demonstrating subnational efforts’ contribution to national and global climate mitigation have, until recently, been scarce. Subnational initiatives’ integration and alignment with national climate mitigation goals are also largely unknown, particularly when these efforts go beyond existing national policies and requirements. British Columbia’s carbon tax and Shenzhen’s emissions trading scheme, for instance, introduce policies that are not echoed in Canada and China’s respective national climate mitigation efforts. If adopted nationally, these initiatives would contribute significantly to country-level mitigation goals.

This paper compiles nine in-depth case studies of subnational climate mitigation programs that exceed or lead national policy directives. From California to Rajasthan, India, these case studies reveal a range of local partnerships that exhibit strong climate leadership. In addition to examining the policy frameworks that make these accomplishments possible, we calculate each featured initiative’s potential mitigation impact if it were scaled to the national level. Our findings demonstrate these subnational climate actions’ capacity to contribute to national 2020 mitigation goals. Each subnational action may seem insignificant in isolation, but our analysis demonstrates how these local and regional climate initiatives could expand to greater scale and raise ambition for national efforts.

We find that these efforts, in total, could reduce 2020 emissions from the eight countries featured in this report by 1 gigaton, compared to a business-as-usual scenario. A projected 8 to 10 gigaton gap stands between existing national climate pledges and the additional actions needed to maintain a least-cost 2 degrees Celsius trajectory of global temperature rise. The subnational climate actions described in this report could narrow the difference by approximately 10 percent, if adopted by their respective countries.

Subnational actors are reducing emissions through a range of initiatives, including:

  • Adopting ambitious renewable energy targets: Rajasthan’s installed solar capacity is the largest among all the states in India, accounting for more than one-quarter of the country’s total. If Rajasthan’s rate of solar energy expansion were scaled to the national level, India’s carbon dioxide emissions would decrease by 0.398 gigatons, an amount equal to approximately 19 percent of the nation’s total carbon dioxide emissions in 2012.
  • Reducing deforestation rates faster than the national pace: More than three-quarters of emissions from Acre, the third-smallest of Brazil’s 27 states, come from the land-use, land-use change, and forestry sector. With a target to reduce deforestation 80 percent by 2020, Acre has already achieved 63 percent of its goal, which translates to 62 million tons CO2e. When scaled nationally these efforts could contribute 31 percent to Brazil’s 2020 greenhouse gas reduction ambition.
  • Setting prices on carbon, through the use of taxes and emissions trading. The Canadian province of British Columbia has had a carbon tax, in place since 2008, covering all fossil fuel combustion. The tax targets a key source of British Columbia’s contributions to climate change: fossil fuel combustion, which accounted for 71 percent of the province’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2012. If Canada were to adopt a nationwide carbon tax, it could achieve 35 percent of the country’s 2020 reduction goal. And in China, the city of Shenzhen has adopted a pledge to peak emissions in 2022 and a 21 percent carbon intensity reduction goal—greater than the national 2015 carbon intensity target of 16 percent. Shenzhen’s emissions trading scheme covers 40 percent of citywide emissions. If scaled nationally, it could contribute reductions of nearly one-fourth of the 1 gigaton total savings cited in this report.