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On Localism and the Persistent Power of the State

  • Cinnamon P. Carlarne (a1)
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On June 1, 2017, President Trump declared that the United States would “cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.” The United States’ de facto withdrawal from the Paris Agreement represented an important inflection point for conceptualizing the role of nonstate actors in addressing climate change. President Trump's announcement was met with an outpouring of resistance and widespread and concerted efforts to mobilize substate, nonprofit, and private actors to step into the void created by his announcement and to help keep the United States on track to pursue domestic and international commitments to address climate change despite federal recalcitrance. Within the leadership void created by the Trump Administration and amidst the increasingly extensive body of sub- and nonstate climate efforts, it is tempting to decenter the role of the state or to underestimate the persistent power of the state to shape the approach and effectiveness of nonstate actions. Failing to recognize that the state retains significant power in this field undermines efforts to understand the realities within which nonstate actors operate. This creates a set of heightened expectations for these actors that defies the reality of the political, economic, and social resources available to them and masks the challenges inherent in relying upon a fragmented, shifting, and differently accountable set of actors to effect pervasive change.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
References
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2 We are Still In is an alliance that brings together “mayors, county executives, governors, tribal leaders, college and university leaders, businesses, faith groups, and investors” to declare their intent to continuing efforts to implement the United States international climate pledge. See We Are Still in.

3 The Climate Alliance consists of “a bipartisan coalition of governors committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement.” United States Climate Alliance.

4 Kristin Ugusky & Kevin Kennedy, By the Numbers: America's Pledge Shows How US Is Taking Climate Action Without Trump, World Resources Institute (Nov. 11, 2017).

6 For simplicity, this essay refers collectively to substate actors, including U.S. states and cities, and nonstate actors, including a range of private sector and nongovernmental actors, as nonstate actors. This generic term should not be understood to mask the varied roles that these different actors play.

7 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change arts. 4(1)(i) & 7(2)(1), opened for signature June 4, 1992, 31 ILM 849 (1992) (entered into force Mar. 21, 1994).

8 Paris Agreement arts. 64(b) & 6(8)(b), Dec. 13, 2015, in UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Report of the Conference of the Parties on its Twenty-First Session, Addendum, at 21, UN Doc. FCCC/CP/2015/10/Add.1 (Jan. 29, 2016).

9 See, e.g., Jose E. Alvarez, Governing the World: International Organizations As Lawmakers, 31 Suffolk Transnat'l L. Rev. 591 (2008).

10 Mohamed S. Helal, The Crisis of World Order and the Constitutive Regime of the International System, Fla. State L. Rev. (forthcoming).

11 David Bookbinder, The Obama Climate Legacy, Niskanen Center (April 11, 2017) (quoting Cass Sunstein).

12 Legislative defeats and comparative inaction during President Obama's first term are largely attributable to the ongoing economic crises. See, e.g., Cass R. Sunstein, Changing Climate Change, 2009-2016, 42 Harv. Envtl. L. Rev. 231, 245-47 (2018).

13 See generally Cinnamon Carlarne, Climate Change Law and Policy: EU and US Approaches chs. 3 & 4 (2010).

14 See, e.g., Daniel A. Farber & Cinnamon P. Carlarne, Climate Change Law ch. 7 (2018); Ca.Gov, Collaboration on Climate Change.

15 J. Kevin Healy & Bryan Keyt, The Case for Corporate Action on Climate Change, 48 Envtl. L. Rep. News & Analysis 10381, 10381-82 (2018).

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