What’s Being Done in the U.S.

While U.S. federal policy on climate change has not been forthcoming, sector-based policies have been introduced. From CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards, appliance and equipment standards, to section 111(d) under the Clean Air Act (state-based program for existing sources) steps are being taken to develop national climate policies and initiatives. States are leading by setting emission reduction targets, investing in renewables and energy efficiency, developing plans to mitigate climate change, and designing greenhouse gas cap-and-trade programs. Both the federal and state policies are acting to promote economic development, reduce vulnerability to fluctuating energy prices, and prevent damage to the resources from climate change.

States across the U.S. are acting both individually and together to begin addressing the problems of global climate change.  State action continues to provide a network of “policy laboratories” in the U.S., capable of making an impact now, and providing a foundation for federal policy in the near future. Ultimately, climate change is a global problem that will demand global action, including national action in the United States. State and regional action cannot substitute for a coordinated national response, but it can help provide the foundation for that response.

Regional Initiatives

Regional programs can be more efficient than programs at the individual state level, as they encompass a broader geographic area, eliminate duplication of work, and create more uniform regulatory environments.

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

  • The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is the first mandatory U.S. cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide. Currently, the program is composed of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. RGGI sets a cap on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants throughout the region, and allows regulated entities to trade carbon emission allowances to achieve compliance.
  • Between 2009 and 2013, carbon emissions from power plants in the RGGI region decreased by 45% as a result of fuel switching to natural gas, increased use of renewable energy, and a reduction in regional energy consumption. Following a comprehensive Program Review, RGGI adjusted the program cap to achieve an annual 2.5% emissions reduction each year between 2014 and 2020. A study released in November 2011 shows that RGGI has resulted in net economic benefit of $1.6 billion to participating states due to increased energy efficiency and other factors.

Western Climate Initiative

  • The Western Climate Initiative (WCI) is a collaboration of jurisdictions working together to identify, evaluate, and implement emission-trading programs to mitigate the impacts of climate change at a sub-national level. Current WCI members are British Columbia, California and Quebec.
  • In November 2011, WCI transitioned into WCI, Inc., a nonprofit corporation that provides administrative and technical assistance to support the implementation of state and provincial greenhouse gas emission trading programs. Under the auspices of WCI Inc., California and Quebec linked their cap-and-trade programs on Jan. 1, 2014. WCI, Inc. manages the Compliance Instrument Tracking Service System, administers allowance auctions, conducts independent market monitoring of allowance auctions, and certifies allowance and offset certificate trade transactions.

Pacific Coast Collaborative

  • Established in 2008, the Pacific Coast Collaborative (PCC) is a cooperative agreement among the leaders of Alaska, British Columbia, California, Oregon, and Washington to leverage clean energy innovation and low-carbon development to reduce the effects of climate change on the regional economy. Together, the PCC jurisdictions are comprised of 53 million residents, with a total GDP of $2.8 trillion, which is equal to the 5th largest economy in the world (France). Through the PCC, leaders from participating jurisdictions can coordinate, propose, and adopt policy frameworks aimed at generating investments in renewable energy, climate resilience, low-carbon transportation infrastructure, and environmental conservation. On Oct. 18, 2013, the group signed the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy, a nonbinding agreement to align climate regulations and market-based measures in each jurisdiction. The plan calls for a harmonized approach to U.S. and international climate negotiations, and each jurisdiction has agreed to participate in a subnational coalition to secure a broader climate agreement at Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC in Paris in 2015.

Initiatives that no are no longer being pursued: 

Midwestern Regional Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord

  • The Midwest Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord (MGGRA) was a commitment launched in 2007 by the governors of six Midwest states and the premier of one Canadian province to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a regional cap-and-trade program and other complementary measures. Members of MGGRA are not currently pursuing their greenhouse gas goals through the Accord. 

View a map of state climate initiatives to see if your state is involved in a regional initiative.

Why State Action is Important

  • States often function as “policy laboratories,” developing initiatives that can serve as models for federal action. This has been especially true with environmental regulation -- many of the most prominent federal environmental laws have been based on state models.
  • States have primary jurisdiction over many activities—such as electric generation, agriculture, and land use—that are critical to addressing climate change. These activities have a significant impact on emissions. Texas, for example, emits more than France, while California’s emissions exceed those of Brazil. 

Motivation for State Action 

  • States that enact climate change policy almost always do so with long-term economic wellbeing in mind. Many states are concerned with the toll climate change is projected to take on their economies, many of which are closely tied to their natural resources. Coastal states consider the impact of rising sea levels, agricultural states worry about lost productivity, and the dry Western states are alarmed by the prospect of worsening droughts.
  • Many states take advantage of policies that address climate change as economic opportunities: to produce and sell alternative fuels, to become renewable energy exporters, to attract high-tech business, or to sell carbon emission reduction credits. 
  • In part because reducing GHG emissions can deliver multiple benefits, it has often been possible for states and regions to build broad coalitions around GHG reduction policies. Climate change has, in fact, often been a bipartisan issue in the states, with Democratic, Republican, and Independent governors signing climate change legislation.

Learn more about the actions states are taking to address climate change at C2ES's U.S. States & Regions Climate Action page