Governments at all levels recognize the urgency of acting on climate change. People in regions around the world already find themselves adapting to a changing planet. Science points to the responsibility of governments to act now in order to avoid the worst impacts predicted by future climate change scenarios.
We also have a better understanding of the costs of not taking immediate steps to mitigate climate change. According to the latest update of the Stern Review, the costs of taking action, now estimated at approximately 2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), are far outweighed by the costs associated with adopting a 'wait and see' attitude. The cost of not acting on climate change could amount to the equivalent of losing at least 5 per cent of global GDP per year.
For years, state and regional governments around the world have demonstrated tremendous leadership on tackling climate change. States, provinces and regions are on the frontline when it comes to dealing with the impacts of climate change. They prepare for and deal with the aftermath of extreme forest fires, storms, flooding and drought. These events affect their budgets directly and the decisions they make must therefore account for the threatening changes that come with higher temperatures. Many have begun implementing programmes and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and develop plans to address adaptation needs.
Sub-national governments are well placed to pioneer the opportunities presented by the transition to a low-carbon economy, having greater flexibility in setting and implementing policy. State, regional and provincial governments also have the advantage of being able to take into account the specific characteristics, vulnerabilities and strengths of their citizens and regions. Moreover, states and regions have responsibilities that differ from the national level. They are often responsible for environment, resource and energy policy and the use of public lands, as well as public transport, waste management and access to water. They establish and/or implement codes and standards for buildings, appliances and vehicles. They set taxation and subsidy policies for business and agriculture and they have a variety of regulatory and infrastructure arrangements with municipal governments. This means that the decisions taken by states and regions can actually shift the marketplace towards low-carbon solutions such as energy efficiency, sun, wind and geothermal power - and, in the case of emission standards - new vehicle technologies such as plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles.
National governments can, in turn, take advantage of the experience gained at the state and regional level. A recent example of a dramatic shift in the right direction is President Obama's review of the US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) earlier denial of California and other states' right to raise their vehicle emission standards. This is just one example of the important work that states and regions are undertaking at the sub-national level, which, with national partnership, creates world class emission reduction standards and charts a course for a new low-carbon economy.
Climate change is increasingly gaining centre stage at international meetings such as the G8. National governments are playing host to symposiums focused on strengthening partnerships and identifying climate change solutions. And progress, although slow, is being made at the annual United Nations climate change conferences where the core aspects of an international climate change agreement are debated.
The 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia (COP 13), marked an important juncture in the international negotiations. Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiated how to address climate change in the post-2012 period when the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period ends. Bali culminated in the adoption of the Bali Road Map and Action Plan, which laid the building blocks for future negotiations. Governments agreed to slow the growth of emissions and eventually cut them; provide financial support for climate change mitigation; cooperate on measures for adaptation; and work on reducing deforestation and technology transfer. Negotiations in Bali, and more recent negotiations in Poznan, Poland, are all important steps toward the COP 15 conference in Copenhagen in 2009. This is the timeline that governments have set to come to a global agreement for the post-2012 period.
We must remember that any new international agreement will not take effect until 2012. In the interim, state and regional governments are contributing to shorter-term progress by diligently putting into practice climate change policies and programmes, such as building efficiency standards, automobile emission standards, low-carbon fuel standards, renewable portfolio standards (policies that require a proportion of an area's energy generation to be from renewable sources), and sustainable land-use policies. Sub-national governments are already implementing reduction strategies ahead of the next global agreement by sharing best practices and new technologies across developed and developing country boundaries.
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