Thinking globally, acting locally: States take the lead on global warming

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Global warming is the preeminent environmental and economic challenge of our time. The continued accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the Earth’s atmosphere is changing the world’s climate. These changes affect human health, air quality, food production and agriculture, forestry, water resources, coastal resources, energy needs, infrastructure, and ecosystems and wildlife. The impacts of global warming are occurring now and a strong international scientific consensus projects they will occur with greater severity in the future. And since the United States is responsible for more than 20% of the world’s GHG emissions, it must participate if attempts to address the issue are to succeed. Yet, the United States is the only major industrialized country to fail to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which set a binding cap on GHG emissions covering the period 2008–2012.

In the United States, it appears likely that within the next few years some form of comprehensive climate legislation will be adopted. President Barack Obama supports an economy-wide cap-and-trade GHG program, as do the chairs of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA) and the House Energy and Commerce Committee (Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-CA). These are, however, recent developments. While some in Congress have developed bills to cap or otherwise limit GHG emissions in recent years, no legislation been approved by either house.

In the absence of federal action over the past decade, the increasing scientific consensus reflected in international reports prompted many state and local leaders to begin work on a “bottom up” approach to climate change. This article provides an overview of major state and local climate change programs, including regional initiatives. Other articles in this issue of EM address some of these programs in more detail. This article concludes with some speculation and recommendations about the possible role of state and local innovation in any future federal program.

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