Building Back Better Starts at the Bottom

by | May 12, 2021 | Stories

It’s official: the United States is back at the table on climate change. Earlier this year, we breathed a sigh of relief as the White House formally reentered the Paris Climate Agreement, signaling to the rest of the world our renewed dedication to climate leadership. And the federal government has backed up that commitment with the climate-forward American Jobs Plan and an ambitious new Nationally Determined Contribution, or NDC, which aims to cut emissions 50% – 52% from 2005 levels by 2030.

As we work to build back better, more sustainably and equitably from the COVID-19 pandemic, this renewed ambition from the federal government cannot be overstated. At the same time, the actions of non-federal leaders like cities, states, and businesses — particularly over the past four years — have kept us on a trajectory of meaningful progress that will allow us to meet our ambitious new goals.

Part of the reason for this is that the impacts and challenges of climate change are felt most acutely at the ground level. While preventing irreversible climate damage requires us to rapidly decarbonize at a global scale, we can’t expect to get there without engaging the building blocks of our society. That means elevating leaders at all levels of government and the private sector — leaders who have been tackling climate challenges head-on and creating sustainable, resilient communities from the ground up.

Bloomberg Philanthropies is proud to be a headline sponsor of this year’s Climate Leadership Exchange and Climate Leadership Conference and Awards to support the important convening of leaders across all levels of society as we collectively translate our climate ambition to action during this important decade of decarbonization.

A Whole-of-Society Approach

The reinstating of the federal government’s climate leadership, combined with the existing leadership from non-federal actors, together served as the inspiration for America Is All In — the largest coalition of American leaders ever assembled to fight climate change.

The coalition made up of over 1,800 U.S. institutions and led by Co-Chairs UN Special Envoy for Climate Ambition and Solutions Mike Bloomberg, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, and CommonSpirit Health CEO Lloyd Dean, is championing a whole-of-society approach to climate change — one that combines the ambition of national goals with the boots-on-the-ground energy that gets things done from the bottom-up.

Since its inception, America Is All In was one in a chorus of activists and organizations calling for the U.S. to cut emissions by at least 50% by 2030 and to communicate that commitment to the world well in advance of COP26 in Glasgow. The coalition also produced research which confirms that this target is achievable if the federal government works in tandem with cities, states, businesses, and other non-federal actors. Now that the Biden-Harris administration has shown ambitious climate leadership and embrace the goal of cutting emissions by more than half in the next 10 years, it’s time for the federal government to advance progress on the ground, both by working with non-federal actors and by using every tool in the federal toolbox to directly supports existing efforts.

The administration has already taken major strides in the right direction by elevating and appointing non-federal leaders to positions within the cabinet. Voices like former mayors Pete Buttigieg and Marty Walsh, former Secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality Michael Regan, and more, are all bringing the expertise of bottom-up leadership to climate-related offices in Washington. More than anyone, these leaders recognize the value of working across governments and sectors to enact change.

Empowering Cities to Lead

Perhaps the greatest potential for bottom-up climate action lies in cities. Through our work at Bloomberg Philanthropies, we’ve seen just how impactful guidance and support can be for cities looking to find and implement climate solutions.

Our Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge is a great example of this. The Challenge rewarded 25 of the most populous cities in the U.S. with an arsenal of support for tackling emissions, with a focus on the two highest emitting sectors in cities: buildings and transportation. The results have been powerful: so far, the number of climate policies passed in cities that are a part of the Challenge have quadrupled in the last two years, from just 12 policies passed in 2017-18 to 48 policies since the Challenge launched in 2019.

The policies we’ve helped pass in cities are diverse, and many of them tackle more than just climate emissions. For example, in San Antonio, the city’s rapid growth was raising issues of traffic congestion, carbon pollution, and commute times. City officials knew they needed to invest in cleaner, more efficient public transit options to keep up with the growing population. So, our team at the Climate Challenge helped the mayor’s office develop its strategy, hosting in-person workshops and multiple public opinion polls. This work eventually led to a ballot measure, which proposed an expansion of the transit system to promote ridership over car commuting. The ballot passed in November 2020.

The White House can provide these same robust resources to cities around the country, helping devise policies that fit each city’s unique needs. Working together, cities and the federal government can be a powerful force towards creating sustainable, resilient communities across America.

 Every Voice Counts in the Move Beyond Fossil Fuels

The last, most important non-federal actor in the fight against climate change is you.

I can’t emphasize enough how critical every single voice is. Since 2011, Bloomberg Philanthropies has partnered with the Beyond Coal campaign to help retire coal plants here in the United States. Through that work, we’ve seen the tireless advocacy of campaigners and activists bring about a major milestone in retiring more than 60% of U.S. coal plants in 10 years. Now, we’ve expanded this model into sister campaigns in Europe, where they’ve retired 50% of coal plants, as well as AustraliaJapan, and South Korea.

We’re also gearing up to move not just Beyond Coal, but Beyond Carbon, raising our voices to stop the rush to gas and promote renewable energy investment.

People are the true building blocks of society — and the more that we each demand clean, renewable energy, the faster we’ll reach our goals and create the healthy, sustainable society this crisis calls for.