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Plaistow and Paris: the climate links between local & national governments


Sen McCain in Portsmouth NH on the eve of the 2008 NH Presidential Primary (AP)

What do Colebrook and Campton New Hampshire have to do with Cameroon? How is Alton connected to Australia, Plainfield to Poland; Newton to Norway, or Stratham to Spain?

Ten years ago at Town Meeting, citizens in 165 New Hampshire towns passed the NH Climate Change Resolution, and last year 197 countries signed on to the Paris climate agreement.

Local New Hampshire towns and sovereign nations have more in common than one might imagine.  Each government recognizes fossil fuels contribute to costs and climate change, and each has resolved to reduce emissions.

In 2007 the New Hampshire Climate Change Resolution, led by 300 volunteers in 183 towns, called on the President and Congress to reduce emissions. The resolution read in part:

“…  support of effective actions by the President and the Congress to address the issue of climate change which is increasingly harmful to the environment and economy of New Hampshire and to the future well being of the people of our town including the establishment of a national program requiring reductions of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions while protecting the U.S. economy.

The resolution also “encouraged New Hampshire citizens to work for emission reductions within their communities, and we ask our Selectmen to consider the appointment of a voluntary energy committee to recommend local steps to save energy and reduce emissions.”

Each town transmitted the results of their vote to the New Hampshire Congressional Delegation, to the President of the United States, and to declared candidates for those offices at that time. Senators Obama and McCain were presidential candidates then.  It is significant that, in the general election, there was no daylight between Obama and McCain with respect to climate science, the significance of the problem, and policy solutions.

Fast forward to 2015. By agreeing to be a Party to the Paris Agreement, each of 197 countries including the U.S.A. agreed “to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change … and implement solutions “to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.”

Recognition of climate change –  and the resolve to reduce energy intensity –  connect New Hampshire towns to sovereign countries all over the world. But the connection is even stronger: the U.S. brought our country’s plan to Paris, and tucked in that plan to reduce nationwide emissions was the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the market-based effort by 9 states, including New Hampshire, to reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions.

Here’s the connection: energy efficiency funding through RGGI helped make possible energy efficiency projects planned by dozens of local energy committees in NH (which formed as a consequence of passing the NH Climate Change Resolution in 2007). Volunteers measured their towns’ energy use – both in terms of costs to local taxpayers and emissions of greenhouse gases.  Local government leaders then had the information they needed to invest in energy efficiency and clean energy projects in their towns.

In 2011 the NH legislature dedicated $2 million in RGGI funds to support energy efficiency projects in towns and schools.  In 2014 the energy efficiency fund supported local investments in almost 200 projects: energy use and costs were lowered in school districts, fire departments local libraries and town buildings. Towns are making a difference and, arguably, contributing to the U.S. pledge and the Climate Accord. While the lifetime energy savings realized by the Sarah Porter School in Langdon may be relatively modest, the collective energy savings from the 200 projects statewide is profound. And more needs to be done, yet interest and demand are outpacing the fund today.

New Hampshire towns and sovereign countries are indeed linked together through the Paris Climate Accord. As a consequence of President Trump’s intemperate decision to withdraw, dozens of U.S. mayors and businesses are putting in place a plan to meet our county’s greenhouse gas emission targets established under the Accord.  The little towns in New Hampshire should not be forgotten —  not only did they set the tone for national leadership in 2008, the clean energy work they are accomplishing right now is as significant as the work being done in countries all over the globe.


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