Cities, territories commit to climate action at Toronto summit

Cities, territories commit to climate action at Toronto summit

The Climate Summit of the Americas, hosted by the Government of Ontario, brought together infranational leaders from the U.S., Canada and Latin America. These heads of government, from 23 jurisdictions around the hemisphere, gathered to share their experience of effective climate action, and to agree to a shared Climate Action Statement, the first of its kind.

Cities and territories have not historically had standing in the global climate negotiations; they need to be invited by their national governments, if they are to participate, and can’t negotiate as cities or territories. This month has seen an important expansion of the role of non-state actors and territories in shaping an effective, efficient, collaborative global response to climate disruption.

Chief Larry Sault said indigenous people are "stewardship warriors … armed with respect and love for Mother Earth" and called on all present to commit to that standard.

Chief Larry Sault said indigenous people are “stewardship warriors … armed with respect and love for Mother Earth” and called on all present to commit to that standard.

Just prior to the Climate Summit of the Americas, the World Summit of Cities and Territories in Lyon, France, on July 1 and 2, brought local government officials together to discuss ways to work across borders to catalyze stronger climate action. Cities and provinces are taking action, often with more concrete detail and ambition than national governments, and and with the intent of learning from each other.

The insight that action is not a menu item, but an existential necessity, stood out and was often repeated

So, the Summit established this principle: municipal, state and provincial governments — infranational governments — need to work together and that action is not an option, but a necessity. We heard from morally resolute, spiritually grounded, politically active Indigenous leaders, who called on all present, in various ways, to remember three things:

  1. Climate disruption poses the most serious threat to vulnerable traditional communities, whose way of life is disappearing.
  2. There is a spiritual component to this work, a question of what we hold in our consciousness, and whether we honour what is sacred.
  3. We are all connected: what happens to the Inuit and to other First Nations peoples happens to all of us.

Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state made the chilling observation about the Pacific Northwest: “The rainforest is on fire,” and noted he had breathed the smoke of British Columbia’s fires when he left his home to travel to the Summit.

There are major threats to agriculture. Ontario Minister of the Environment Glen Murray, noted that more than 80 per cent of the regional apple crop had been lost in one year: “When you can’t reliably grow apples in Ontario” served as a canary in the coal mine insight.

Eliminating emissions of climate forcing gases is a moral and economic imperative. Doing so without a strong, reliable, and catalytic carbon price is much more expensive. Many of the jurisdictions represented are actively pricing carbon in some way, and benefitting from doing so.

British Columbia Minister of the Environment Mary Polak, was widely recognized for the province’s leadership in implementing a revenue-neutral carbon tax returns that revenues to the people through tax rate reductions of various kinds. Ontario, Quebec, and California are forming a common market for buying and selling permits and credits, to facilitate an overall capping of greenhouse gas emissions within certain sectors.

Brazilian states are looking at forestry and land use as crucial to both sustainable development and to catalyzing carbon pricing and emissions reductions, at home and abroad. We heard from the nine U.S. states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The RGGI states have seen an 18 per cent reduction in emissions, while enjoying higher GDP growth than the rest of the U.S., more than nine per cent since RGGI came into force.

Mexico was represented by the states of Baja California and Jalisco, but also by Undersecretary Rodolfo Lacy, who has responsibility for Mexico’s national carbon tax, which came into force in January 2014. The tax is applied at the source, according to the molecular chemistry of the raw material. Lacy described this approach as “more democratic,” allowing everyone to plan around a clear price signal.

Pricing at the source means the administrative monitoring is much simpler, and the solution can cover the entire market. Certified Emissions Reductions (CER) can be used “to pay the tax.” In 2017, Mexico plans to make its CER tradable on California’s carbon market. This would allow for both compensation of early actors and for full payment of the carbon tax.

Canada has an export market for carbon-emitting fuels that exceeds $120 billion. The federal government finds it hard to conceive of going without that windfall. But Indigenous and subnational leaders, as well as scientists and economists, warn that those exports are not really a windfall; there are huge costs to Canada and to the world, which can no longer be ignored.

There are major costs inherent in the status quo, but also major opportunity costs inherent in acting boldly to motivate low-carbon energy production and development. The U.S., EU, China and Brazil, have all discovered that low-carbon technology and emissions reduction facilities can be sources of serious export value.

During a rousing speech, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore cited investment in low-carbon economic development as the biggest economic opportunity humankind has ever known. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón explained that the new low-carbon economy is not one option among many, but the only way we can secure a livable future for humankind.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, representing Indigenous peoples of the Circumpolar Region, said an entire way of life, informed by generations of human wisdom and collaboration, is at risk of disappearing. This would be a loss for all of us, a piece of our world and wisdom gone, and called on everyone present to honour the sacred and protect the vulnerable. Chief Larry Sault said his people are “stewardship warriors … armed with respect and love for Mother Earth” and called on all present to commit to that standard.

By convening this summit, and by working together to bring all of this insight into the light of day, Ontario’s provincial leadership modelled what the world most needs now — a sense of responsibility to the rest of humanity and a willingness to lead in an inclusive and collaborative response.

Joe Robertson, Global Strategy Director for Citizens’ Climate Lobby, leads CCL’s Pathway to Paris project.

Steve Valk
Steve Valk is Communications Coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby. Steve joined the CCL staff in 2009 after a 30-year career with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter at @valklimate.