Governments from across the globe recently came together in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, for the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to identify the next steps the world’s governments must take to address the worsening impacts of climate change. But it isn’t just federal governments who will ensure we meet our global climate goals. States are also vitally important.
Earlier this month, I traveled to COP27 with a delegation of state legislators from across the
United States, hosted by the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. We worked to shine a light on the way our home states are leading efforts to combat climate change and equitably transition to a clean energy economy. In the wake of consequential midterm elections and a new report that the U.S. has warmed 68% faster than the planet as a whole, U.S. states are more ready than ever to lead in the passage and implementation of strong climate policy
Some may be still asking why state governments matter in the fight against global climate change. After all, addressing climate change will require an all-hands-on-deck approach with buy-in from all nations. But local and state climate policy solutions are critical.
The impacts of climate change are not uniform and result in different types of burdens depending on where one lives – even within the United States. In 2022 alone, the United States has experienced costly and life-threatening heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, extreme flooding events, and hurricanes. Many of these events have been fueled by climate change.
Here in Maryland, our communities are no strangers to many of these impacts. Many live in areas that are especially vulnerable to unprecedented extreme heat waves. Our historic coastal communities and fishing economies are threatened by increasingly dangerous flooding and the degradation of the Chesapeake Bay and its outlets.
Climate change and public health are not mutually exclusive issues; several consequences of climate change demonstrate that these issues are intertwined. Burning fossil fuels releases heat-trapping climate pollution, but also air pollution like ozone and particulate matter. More frequent heat and climate disasters like wildfires are also more likely to increase the concentrations of such toxic substances.
Thousands of our neighbors are exposed daily to toxic air pollutants that threaten their health and safety. When air quality decreases, our most vulnerable populations suffer from illness, and we all bear the burden of increased healthcare costs. If we do not adapt, the CDC estimates that 4,300 more people will prematurely die from respiratory illness. Healthcare costs are also projected to rise an additional $6.5 billion during this time. When extreme temperatures and droughts threaten food production and aspects of food quality, it is more difficult for our communities to receive nutrition rich food necessary for healthy growth. These examples, along with the countless others not listed, demonstrate why we must promote policies that combat climate change while also considering public health outcomes.
It is crucial that states like Maryland be a part of the climate solution equation because we can craft policy in a way that accounts for regional and state-specific climate impacts. Not to mention, states have continually been at the forefront of American climate action by passing policies to comprehensively reduce emissions, commit to 100% renewable energy, expand climate-friendly transportation systems, and advance nature-based climate solutions. States will also play a leading role in determining how funds from the recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) are invested into climate priorities.
The Maryland General Assembly has passed legislation that has made our state a leader in the fight against climate change. Maryland is committed to operating as a laboratory for democracy, demonstrating how other states can reduce their carbon emissions and combat climate change.
By enacting the Climate Solutions Now Act, we are leading the nation in our efforts to achieve carbon emission neutrality by 2040. We are electrifying our state fleet of vehicles and investing in reliable electric vehicle infrastructure to expedite the transition away from vehicles powered by fossil fuels. We are also tailoring incentive programs for renewable energy installation and expansion to ensure that overburdened and underserved communities have equitable access to the technology designed for a clean energy future. While we have made tremendous progress on these fronts, it is imperative that we continue working to preserve and protect our environment for future generations.
It was an honor to take part in various roundtable discussions and panels with some of the world’s top climate leaders at COP27 to highlight the work we are doing right here in Maryland. In relation to the rest of the world, our state may be relatively small. But our potential impact on climate policy is not. The actions we take today to reign in climate-harming pollution within state borders will ensure a resilient future for every Marylander and set an example for all levels of government across our planet.
David Fraser-Hidalgo represents District 15 in the Maryland House of Delegates. During his nine years in office, he has focused on climate change legislation that promotes justice, equity, and prosperity. He currently lives in Boyds.
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