Federal Governments Be Damned: Local Communities and Grassroots Activists Move Urgently Toward a Fossil-Free Future

Climate leadership is emerging on the local level around the globe.

GRAND ISLAND, NE - April 18: Opponents to the Keystone XL pipeline hold arm bands at a hearing Saturday, April 18, 2013 in Grand Island, Ne.
Photo Credit: Dave Weaver / Shutterstock.com

Speaking to the COP22 delegates Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the Obama administration’s plan for deep decarbonization, though the Trump administration could well undo it. While Kerry acknowledged the uncertainty Trump’s win creates, he predicted markets would continue to drive the transition to clean energy sources, and that the question was whether it would happen fast enough to avoid catastrophic climate damage. 

The plan Secretary Kerry unveiled is a welcome recognition of the need for urgent action; however, it does not go nearly far enough. It’s the people who are claiming the mantle of genuine global climate leadership. Locally elected officials, tribal activists, communities of faith and the grassroots communities that are supporting them have stepped into the void and are acting with urgency, courage and defiance. They are putting their bodies on the line, as in North Dakota, blocking pipeline construction; they are putting in place binding ordinances to ban all new fossil fuel export infrastructure; and they are ensuring 100 percent renewable energy targets are met by 2020, if not sooner.

At a press conference at the COP22 climate conference in Marraekech Wednesday evening, NGO and government leaders highlighted how subnational governments and major cities around the world, including in the United States and Canada, are moving forward on implementing the Paris Agreement by adopting No New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure policies and pledges. These policies move cities and regions away from all fossil fuel export infrastructure and toward 100 percent renewable energy. At the press conference, speakers highlighted how citizens, cities and regional governments are stepping in and stepping up the pace of climate action independent of federal action (or inaction). To date, cities across the Western U.S., including Portland, Oregon, as well as Vancouver, B.C., have signed onto No New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure declarations, and uptake is accelerating.

"The urgency of reducing greenhouse emissions dictates that our resources must be focused on rolling out infrastructure that provides fossil free energy," said Shane Rattenbury, ACT Greens MLA & Government Minister of Canberra, Australia, at the press conference. "Investment in fossil fuel infrastructure can no longer be justified. As a jurisdiction committed to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2020, we are striving to do our part in this change."

"We support Portland, Oregon's groundbreaking City Council resolution opposing all new fossil fuel export infrastructure," said Salote Soqo, a senior program leader for the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. "We see this local resolution as a reflection of the growing voices of grassroots movements and people of faith around the world, who are calling on their leaders to take bold and ambitious actions to end the devastating era of fossil fuel consumption and usher in the age of clean, renewable energy and climate justice."

For more information about the No New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure campaign, click here.

To view a list of elected officials who have signed the pledge, click here.

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Daphne Wysham is the director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Center for Sustainable Economy. She is also an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) where she is the founder and co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network. Follow her on Twitter @daphnewysham.