Frequently asked questions about the climate groundswell:

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What is the groundswell of climate actions?

While countries negotiate a new climate treaty and decide on their national contributions 10-15 years into the future, a groundswell of cities, companies, regional governments, civil society groups, and others are taking concrete actions now to reduce greenhouse gases and adapt to a changing climate. These actions occur both individually, in single cities and businesses, and in networks and partnerships. These actions often take place in close collaboration with national governments and international organizations as well. As you can see on the UN’s Non-state Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA) portal, tens of thousands of cities, companies, and other organizations have taken action around the world. More are joining them every day.

What counts as a “climate action”?

Climate action is any policy, measure, or program that reduces greenhouse gases, builds resilience to climate change, or supports and finances those goals. Climate action is therefore enormously diverse, ranging from cities committing to more efficient building standards, companies putting a price on carbon in their investment decisions, or a coalition of companies and farmers’ groups that deploys climate-smart agriculture practices.

Do these bottom-up actions actually reduce emissions?

While these actions are fantastically diverse and dispersed, an increasing number of studies are calculating theirs emissions reduction potential. UN reports released this summer and fall looked at just a fraction of the global initiatives involving cities, regions, and companies, and found they could save 2.5-4 billion tons of carbon per year by 2020—before countries’ Paris pledges even come into effect. That’s more than India emits in a year, and close to the 4-6 billion tons the UN estimates that countries’ national pledges will save per year by 2030, a decade later. While individual actions may be small, in aggregate they are climate superpowers, of the same magnitude as national pledges.

What is the relationship between the groundswell and national contributions?

Countries have set national goals for post-2020 ambition. These targets will be progressively ratcheted up over time. The groundswell of climate actions, in turn, captures what is happening on the ground right now. The groundswell therefore reinforces national action in two ways. First, it is developing the policies, measures, technologies, and other means national governments will need to meet their targets. Second, by driving down emissions and building resilience, the groundswell raises the bar for national ambitions and allows countries to go farther than would otherwise have been possible. To a significant extent these new actors go beyond the national pledges and therefore help fill the gap between what countries can politically commit to now and what is needed to maintain a safe climate. Exactly how much these actions add on top of national policy is hard to estimate precisely, given overlaps between national policy and sub-national and private sector actions, but it is likely in the range of 33-70 percent.

Is this groundswell of action part of the 2015 Paris conference?

Cities, regions, companies, and other actors will play a leading role at Paris. Building from last year’s Lima conference, and the September 2014 UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit, the French and Peruvian governments, supported by the UN, have formed the “Lima-Paris Action Agenda” to recognize and catalyze climate action at all levels. The Paris conference rests on four pillars: 1) the legal agreement among countries; 2) individual national pledges for 2025 or 2030; 3) financing, and; 4) the “Lima-Paris Action Agenda”. Actors at all levels will come together to show the ambitious climate actions they are already taking, and make commitments to go further, faster, toward our common goal. Success at Paris therefore rests in no small part on the ambitious actions of cities, regions, companies, and other organizations, both individually and in partnership with countries and international organizations.

Will the groundswell be formally recognized in the Paris agreement and declaration?

Countries have recognized the importance of immediate climate actions from all actors in the draft negotiating text. They have also outlined plans for the continuation of the “Action Agenda” after 2015, envisioning a series of meetings and high-level champions to drive implementation, and to bring the groundswell to a higher level of scale and ambition in the years to come.

Does the groundswell substitute for national action, and therefore let countries off the hook?

Climate actions by cities, regions, companies, and other groups reinforces national action. It does not replace it.

Does the groundswell infringe on national sovereignty or create new obligations for countries?

Because cities, companies and others take climate actions for their own benefit (both to combat climate change and to achieve other goals like improving efficiency, addressing air pollution, creating jobs, etc.), and do so in conformance with national laws, they do not challenge national sovereignty. Instead, the groundswell helps governments achieve their climate targets in a more efficient and cost effective way. In this way the groundswell reinforces national capacity and strengthens sovereignty.

How do we make sure cities, companies, and others actually do what they promise?

Just as monitoring and implementation are key concerns for national governments, it is important to make sure that climate actions at all levels are credible and have sufficient resources to see their goals through. Civil society groups are actively working with governments, the UN, and other stakeholders to develop best practices for effective initiatives and to report on progress. And sector-specific platforms such as ICLEI’s Carbonn for cities and CDP for companies conduct rigorous reporting to ensure organizations are on track to meet their targets. Linking groundswell actions to the UN process can also create opportunities to follow up with groundswell actions on a regular basis.

Is the groundswell only for mitigation?

Absolutely not. Many of the climate actions that form that groundswell focus chiefly on adaptation and building climate resilient development. To cite just one example, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves helps families replace their inefficient, polluting stoves with clean ones. This shift reduces indoor air pollution, empowers women and girls to spend less time gathering fuel wood, and removes an important source of greenhouse gases. An advantage of more bottom up initiatives like these is that they often seamlessly marry mitigation, adaptation, economic growth, and other positive benefits.

How can my business, city, or other organization join the groundswell of climate actions?

If you are reducing emissions or strengthening resilience, then you are part of the groundswell. Linking your organization to peer networks, reporting your data to a city or business action platform, or otherwise connecting to other parts of the groundswell can bring you additional knowledge, resources, and motivation to go further. See the UN’s NAZCA portal for more details.