Montgomery County recently became the first county in the U.S. and the first jurisdiction in Maryland to join the “Under2” Coalition, an international pact of states, provinces, regions, cities and nations committed to fighting climate change, county officials said.
Members of the Subnational Global Climate Leadership, or “Under2,” Coalition are dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to keep the global average temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius above the Earth’s pre-industrial revolution temperature.
According to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if the temperature rises more than 2 degrees, there could be dangerous consequences for the environment. Taryn Akiyama, the Under2 Coalition project coordinator, said the worldwide coalition is made up of 187 governments spanning 38 countries and six continents.
County officials determined the County should join the coalition to affirm its responsibility as a local jurisdiction to fight climate change.
“Now, more than ever, jurisdictions need to redouble their efforts to address climate change,” County Executive Ike Leggett said in a County press release. “We have many forward-thinking and concerned residents and businesses in Montgomery County who understand the urgency of this issue. We are proud to join the growing international coalition seeking to reduce the risks to the environment and the economy from climate change.”
Montgomery County Council members passed a resolution that established their intentions to join the Under2 Coalition about two weeks after President Donald Trump announced in June the U.S. would withdraw from the U.N. Paris Climate Agreement.
According to the resolution, “The Council reaffirms its commitment to meeting the environmental goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and endorses the goals of the Under 2° [Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)].”
According to the MOU, Montgomery County is the first county in the U.S. and the first jurisdiction in Maryland to join the coalition. The Paris Agreement is a United Nations agreement in which participating nations commit to keeping this century’s global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. The Obama administration signed the deal in 2015.
Under2’s MOU includes specific goals for participating jurisdictions to reach by 2050.
“The guiding principle for reduction of GHG emissions by 2050 must be to limit global warming to less than 2°C,” according to the MOU. “For Parties to this MOU this means pursuing emission reductions consistent with a trajectory of 80 to 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 and/or achieving a per capita annual emission goal of less than 2 metric tons by 2050.”
County officials from the departments of Environmental Protection and General Services, with assistance from staff in the Planning and Transportation departments, created an appendix outlining how the County would achieve the goals in Under2’s MOU. After they completed the appendix, Leggett officially signed onto the agreement on Sept. 15.
Stan Edwards, chief of the Division of Environmental Policy & Compliance for the County’s Environmental Protection Department, said County officials do not have emissions data from 1990, so the County will continue to operate under its 2009 Climate Protection Plan. According to this plan, county officials commit to an 80 percent emissions reduction using Fiscal Year 2005 emissions levels by 2050.
Officials listed in the appendix 13 “tools and strategies” to achieve the County’s targets. These strategies include “Commercial Building Energy Benchmarking,” “Energy Efficiency and Environmental Design Requirements,” “Solar Installation on County Facilities” and “Bus Fleet and Ridership.”
The specifics of these strategies include existing County laws, policies and practices, such as the County’s Green Bank, the County’s 1992 Forest Conservation Law and the County Government’s 243 electric and gasoline/electric hybrid vehicles. Edwards said the strategies listed in the appendix are actions the County would take regardless of joining the coalition.
The strategies are “things we would have done regardless of this group,” Edwards said. “Joining up with these initiatives just publicly reaffirms our commitment and lets people know that we’re not stopping.”
Another element of the Under2 Coalition is the opportunity to form partnerships with other member jurisdictions.
County officials said in the press release, “By signing the Under2 MOU, the County also agrees to work collaboratively with Under2 Coalition members to strengthen mutual emission reduction efforts; possibly including partnering on specific projects, sharing best practices and coordinating messaging and outreach efforts.”
Doug Weisburger, senior planning specialist for sustainability program with the Department of Environmental Protection, said it is too early to determine what these partnerships might look like. However, he added that “the idea and principle of collaborating with forward-looking jurisdictions is very appealing. We definitely don’t have all the answers, particularly when it spans the entire globe. We welcome ideas from other jurisdictions where they’ve been successful.”
Local environmentalist advocates praised the County Council’s decision, while noting they hope County officials take concrete actions to achieve their goals.
“It’s an important step to make this public commitment to an ambitious goal,” said Michal Freedman, vice chairperson of the Montgomery County Sierra Club executive committee. “But to actually achieve the goal will require substantial commitment of resources and staffing and dedication to monitoring progress towards achieving that goal.”
Jeff Weisner, president of the steering committee of environmentalist group 350MoCo, listed further actions he would like to see the County take to address climate change. These actions include “continuing work on county code and zoning policies to encourage mass transit, to reduce the lines of cars, to continue electrifying and reducing emissions from the county’s own bus and truck fleet” and “continuing action on further incentivizing solar renewables use at the business and development level.”
Weisner said he was not surprised Montgomery County was the first U.S. county to join the coalition.
“I think it speaks well for the county government and county leadership. The County has always been a leader on the issue,” Weisner said. “…Let’s continue to cement these types of agreements that are showing our intent that we can continue to lead on actual policy and commissions as well.”