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Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order he said would end “the war on coal.”

The order launches a review of the Clean Power Plan, which limits greenhouse-gas emissions at coal-fired power plants. It also lifts a moratorium on new federal coal leases, and nixes requirements to consider the social cost of carbon in decision-making.

But even as Trump signed the order, a number of powerful states, most notably California and New York, said they would fight attempts to kill the Clean Power Plan.

“Gutting the Clean Power Plan is a colossal mistake and defies science itself,” California Gov. Jerry Brown told the Associated Press. “Erasing climate change may take place in Donald Trump’s mind, but nowhere else.”

Now, it remains to be seen who has more power to define America’s approach to climate change on a global scale—the White House or the cities and states that have vowed to keep reducing emissions.

On March 24, the California Air Resources Board voted to move ahead with stricter vehicle emissions standards, which Trump has promised to roll back. The New York Times said the move was tantamount to setting up a “face-off” with Trump. Twelve other states follow California’s emissions standards.

And on March 21, two more U.S. cities voted to transition to 100 per cent renewable energy, bringing the total number of cities who have done so to 25. Madison, Wisc. and Abita Springs, La. join a group that already includes San Diego, Calif. and Salt Lake City, Utah.

Trump-era America isn’t the first instance of cities and states moving forward on climate change while national governments stall—it’s just the most dramatic recent example.

Last month, Reuters analyzed the “growing friction” between cities and national governments world-wide, citing the example of Oslo, Norway, where the city is “at odds with Norway’s right-wing government over their push to more than halve the capital’s greenhouse gas emissions within four years.”

Sydney, Australia is also in a dispute with the Australian government over local electricity generation, Reuters reported.

C40, a network of megacities working to fight climate change, claims that cities are the key to addressing global warming. The organization argues that urban density presents a unique opportunity to reduce carbon footprints, and that mayors “are more nimble than state and national elected officials to take decisive action.”

Canada, too, has a history of individual provinces taking the lead on cutting emissions. Even as the former Harper government declined to create a national carbon price, B.C.’s carbon tax and Quebec’s cap-and-trade program pushed forward, with Ontario deciding to join the cap-and-trade system in 2015.

Alberta announced its own carbon tax in November 2015.

In December, most of the provinces signed on to a national climate change strategy created by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government. The agreement will create a national base carbon price starting in 2018.

But it remains to be seen how easy it will be to unify the country on a national approach to climate change, with provinces like Saskatchewan remaining staunchly opposed to a carbon tax.

And in the U.S., it’s still unclear how much power state governments will have to undermine Trump’s plan to roll back environmental regulations. What is clear is that they’re ready for a fight.

“We are reaching out to other states in America and throughout the world and other countries,” Brown told the Los Angeles Times. “We have plenty of fuel to build this movement.”

By Maura Forrest, 06 April 2017


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This article was written for Clean Capital News a free bi-weekly publication dedicated to producing topical articles on sustainability and clean technology that advance our understanding of issues like climate change and help generate solutions for a more sustainable future.

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