23. Sub-national governments and non-state actors shall exercise leadership in solving global problems.

Rapporteur: Metta Spencer

Nation states are the political entities that supposedly make the vast majority of decisions about urgent matters of global importance. Nations have armies. Nations make treaties with other nations to regulate travel through their skies. Nations make the rules for trading with each other. Nations police their borders and decide who may cross them. It is nations that have votes in the United Nations and other multilateral global institutions. Indeed, it is easy to assume that only nations can determine how the climate will be managed.

That would be a mistaken idea. Other polities also have influence over the temperature of our planet. States and provinces build expressways, for example, as well as control electric grids; enact laws about the emission standards for cars; and maintain forests and waterways. A complete list of provincial powers would fill pages.

Municipalities also exercise great political control over the practices prevailing locally. For example, it is city councils and their agencies that run cities’ buses and subways; choose the type of bulbs to be used in street lights; collect and dispose of trash; enforce building codes; maintain sanitation standards of restaurants; run public schools, libraries and hospitals; purify the tap water; and decide whether or not a proposed casino or race track may be built.

Indeed, subnational governments may have as much control over the factors behind global warming as national governments. Admittedly, it would be foolish to underestimate the importance of nation states in regulating the environment and setting tax rates that incentivize the crucial activities of individuals and businesses. When Donald Trump declared that the United States would quit the Paris Agreement, there were huge consequences. On the other hand, he has not been able to do as much damage to the environment and climate as he intended. Why not? Because, whereas foreign and military policy are decided by the nation’s top executives, the environment is greatly influenced by local practices that provinces and municipalities regulate.

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