eXchange Southwest: Hundreds convene to discuss smart, ambitious climate policy

After last week’s global climate march one thing was clear: there is more momentum and public support than ever before for meaningful climate action. The question that remains to be answered is what that action is, how it differs in different places, and how we can ensure the political and public ambition necessary to make it a reality.

These are questions that have been front of mind for many of us who work in this space and want nothing more than to make these policies and solutions widespread as soon as possible. Six years ago when our campaign began in Massachusetts, our small coalition faced immense obstacles in getting it off the ground. Everything from finding funding for initial policy research to building our ranks of  stakeholders and allies took time, energy, and attention. It’s only after six years, a lot of hard work, and a lot of capital that we can look back and know what it takes to move forward. 

As both our organization and campaign grew strong, we began thinking how we could help fill those gaps in other states and regions where there is strong momentum, but a lack of resources to move their efforts to the center stage. We know other states will face the same hurdles as we did, however, we can save them precious time and resources by connecting them with others who have shared the same struggles. With an issue like climate change – where every day that we delay action is a day that we increase the likelihood of worse future effects – we don’t have the luxury of time. So we should not be trying to reinvent the wheel. Instead, we should be seeking and providing avenues for collaboration and sharing of resources and best practices in order to ensure we all have a better shot at passing the policies we so urgently need. 

This is the idea that brought us across the country to Santa Fe, NM. With our key partners, we organized the first of three regional Carbon Solutions Summits, intended to bring together stakeholders under one roof to learn from each other, have important exchanges, and begin the much needed dialogue on ways to move carbon pricing forward. We knew this conversation would not be easy and we were right. The impacts of policy and the strategy we move forward needs to uplift the issues, many of which are systemic challenges that are deeply personal and emotional for many of us. However, we all can agree on the need to stop extractive industries that destroy our communities, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, clean our air and water, reduce harmful emissions, and keep our ecosystems from further collapse. 

Climate Policy Landscape in the Southwest 

Climate policy is extremely promising across Southwest states. Legislatures and executive branches are stepping up as leaders in 2019, setting serious emissions reduction targets and bringing the region into the conversation on states driving climate action.

Nevada passed a bill this year, joining the US Climate Alliance, committing the state to a 28% emission reduction by 2025, 45% by 2030, and net zero emissions by 2050. The state also has a 50% renewable electricity goal on the books, reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. Colorado also joined the US Climate Alliance, committing to 26% emissions reductions by 2025, 50% by 2030, and 90% by 2050. They also have set a goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2040.

Meanwhile, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham brought New Mexico into the US Climate Alliance by executive order, committing the state to a 45% reduction by 2030, forming an interagency climate change task force, and forming a comprehensive policy plan (including a market-based mechanism) to hit their targets. The order complements the recently passed Energy Transition Act, which sets out a state plan to achieve 50% renewable electricity by 2030 and 100% renewable by 2045.

Utah and Arizona are watching closely, and the climate leadership of their neighboring states may spur action in the coming sessions.

Carbon Solutions Summit

This week was an incredible start to a broader and larger engagement in the Southwest, where there is wide ambition and strong emission reductions mandates that can set the backbone for strong climate policy moving forward. We convened over 100 advocates, business leaders, policymakers, thought leaders, and concerned citizens to voice and envision a shared ideal for the future of states in the Southwest. We ended the summit with a profound dialogue, including the voicing of opposition, leverage points and opportunities for collaboration – which was an important step and hopefully the spark for wider engagement from the region. One thing was clear to us over the past week: the Southwest is a region to watch over the next few years. The ideas and ambition to be leaders in the clean energy transition and increase resilience through them, was truly phenomenal to see. 

Deep dive participants mingle between workshops

Over the course of two days, we convened hundreds of advocates for a series of events that meant to begin this kind of collaboration and spark meaningful dialogue. Our Deep Dive workshops focused on two key aspects of our work: sharing best communications practices, and providing an overview of market-based policy options and design choices. We understand that communicating the climate crisis is a massive hurdle in the movement towards meaningful action on this issue, which is why it is a big focus of our work. Using storytelling as a tool to create empathy, communicate both the impacts and opportunities in this crisis, and catalyze hope as a change agent was a large part of our workshop. It was incredible to see it in action throughout the rest of the day as we engaged in more difficult policy discussions. 

Our second workshop focused on our policy research, and offered insights into how these policies have been working in other parts of the U.S. We were also able to share our newest research on the role of carbon pricing in a just transition – using the case study as a way to spark conversation into what equitable policy might look like in New Mexico and other states in the region. We concluded the day with a series of breakout sessions where stakeholders were able to truly voice their vision, concerns, hopes, and shared obstacles for the transition in their states. It was truly incredible to see such dialogue happening, difficult questions being posed, and groups thinking outside the box to envision innovative solutions. 

Senior Research Associate Jonah Kurman-Faber speaks to the room about crafting smart climate policy

Climate XChange will continue to be here as a resource to accelerate local initiatives so that ambition can more quickly transform itself into outcomes. We leave invigorated and extremely excited to continue our work here. Thank you to everyone who took the time to participate and meet us this week, and a bigger even thank you to all who share our vision and want to hop on board this great ride. 

Here is a bit more from our week:

Former Congresswomen Claudine Schneider and Executive Director Michael Green speak at a stakeholder roundtable in Santa Fe.

Youth climate leader Tabitha Hirsch addresses the room of stakeholders about state youth engagement and ambition for market-based climate policies.

Representative Joel Briscoe of Utah shared his proposed legislation, obstacles and opportunities he has faced in his state, and how we can collaborate across the region.