Viewpoint: While state sleeps, local governments lead climate fight
Jordan Hess and Dave Strohmaier
The adage “Think Globally, Act Locally” has long defined how cities and local governments around the world approach environmental issues and the climate crisis. That phrase was popularized a half century ago, but the mindset couldn’t be more relevant today.
We all face an existential crisis that is global in scale, and yet the only way we can address that crisis is if everyone—governments, businesses, organizations, and individuals around the world—does their part.
With the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies, we had the privilege of representing the City and County of Missoula in Dubai earlier this month at the 28th annual United Nations Climate Change conference, where we attended the first-ever Local Climate Action Summit. We joined local leaders from several hundred cities, states and regions around the world, where we gathered with one purpose: to ask the 198 countries that are party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to recognize and elevate the importance of subnational governments in solving the climate crisis.
The 2015 Paris Agreement seeks to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Immediate, bold, national and international action is necessary to stay below the 1.5-degree threshold for warming, but the global community will not meet this climate goal without continued aggressive steps by subnational governments to curb emissions. Cities and towns, counties and regions, provinces and parishes—subnational units of government of all stripes—are where true, transformative change is happening.
Cities and subnational jurisdictions around the world have been working to slow the climate crisis and mitigate its impacts for decades, and there are glimmers of hope, success and optimism all over the global map. Freetown, Sierra Lione, is reforesting their community by planting one million new trees. These trees will serve as a carbon sink and will abate ever-worsening extreme heat conditions. Bogotá, Columbia, opened a cable car to provide public transportation to Ciudad Bolívar—a deeply impoverished area of the city on a steep hillside—advancing climate goals and providing mobility and gender equity.
And in Missoula, the City and County are making progress on the goal of 100% clean electricity by 2030. Missoula’s local governments own and operate two of the largest solar arrays in the state of Montana, and both governments are advancing plans to provide utility-scale clean electricity within the decade.
Moving the needle on the energy transition is slow, painstaking work, and the work of local governments, around the state and around the world, is critical to ensuring the success of global climate treaties. Now, as a result of COP28 in Dubai, and for the first time, local governments are recognized as critical actors on the global stage. And Missoula and Missoula County are at the table.
Local governments at home and abroad play a vital role in keeping 1.5 degrees of warming within reach. At home, we must maximize tools like the Inflation Reduction Act that puts climate action funding directly in the hands of local governments. We encourage other local governments to join partnerships like Missoula’s green power initiative. Abroad, we must advocate for global financing mechanisms that flow directly to cities and regions.
We come home from Dubai inspired by local climate action around the world, with renewed and strengthened resolve to do our part locally to solve this global challenge.
David Strohmaier is a Missoula County Commissioner. Jordan Hess is the former mayor of Missoula. Both recently attended the COP28 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Their attendance was sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies.