The online alter ego of the American Journal of International Law, AJIL Unbound, has just published its symposium on Climate Change Localism. The symposium explores the implications of subnational actors’ efforts to address climate change.
The explosion of initiatives and declarations in recent years outside the federal government, ranging from state and local governments to industry and non-governmental organizations, has changed the face of climate policy. Such muscular localism efforts in the face of federal skepticism and outright opposition to climate initiative raises fundamental questions over diplomacy, federalism and preemption. The growing presence and assertiveness of non-federal actors seeking to fill the policy leadership void left by the Trump administration raises important issues that are explored in the Symposium’s five contributions.
My introduction outlines the issues and describes the insights of each essay. Ann Carlson (UCLA) addresses the current efforts by EPA to revoke California’s authority to regulate vehicle tailpipe emissions more strictly than the federal government standards. Jean Galbraith (Penn) examines the two faces of foreign affairs. Dan Esty (Yale) and Dena Adler (Columbia) provide an innovative strategy that leverages the Paris Agreement to strengthen subnational climate efforts. And Cinnamon Carlarne (Ohio State) explores the potential of sub- and non-state climate efforts.
The sheer breadth, scale and rapidity of subnational climate efforts in the United States have been impressive. Politically and economically powerful states, influential cities, massive pension funds, leading companies and others have stepped up to push the country toward a more effective response to the varied threats of climate change. In many respects, the system isn’t supposed to work this way. Addressing an issue with such obvious international implications as climate change should be spearheaded by the federal government. Necessity remains the mother of invention, however, and we are witnessing an experiment in foreign affairs federalism in real time. The contributions of this symposium provide both hypotheses and new directions for this ongoing experiment, which surely will continue for years to come.