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Empowering Just Climate Action as the US Rejoins the Paris Climate Agreement

We’re back! While the U.S. has officially rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, we still have a long way to go to successfully address climate change in an equitable and just way.

As the Biden Administration focuses on the immediate recovery from COVID-19 and starts to tackle the climate crisis with policies that include equity and justice, there is a critical window of opportunity to make changes now that will benefit those that are and will be most impacted by climate change. On November 4, 2020, the U.S. withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, the first legally binding agreement with a goal to keep global temperature rise below 2 °C (3.6 °F) compared to pre-industrial (1850-1900) temperatures. Signing parties, accounting for 97% of global greenhouse gas emissions, outline ambitious economic and social transformations in five-year cycles to combat climate change.

Though the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement was short, rejoining on February 19, 2021, there was already limited time for the nation (one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases) to address climate change. According to a Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), human-induced warming reached 1 °C (1.8 °F) above pre-industrial temperatures around 2017 and is on track to reach 1.5 °C (3.6 °F) by 2040 if changes are not made.

While there is a large body of research on the drivers and impacts of climate change that are regularly summarized by the IPCC Assessment Reports, there must also be equitable social, cultural, economic, and political solutions. Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) provides a vision for creating a national strategy to accelerate just action at all levels of society on the climate crisis. These solutions will be necessary to meet the ambitious goals set by the Biden Administration to achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions economy by 2050. Community engagement, learning, and training will be essential in recovery, addressing the climate crisis, and regaining global leadership in science and innovation.

Action for Climate Empowerment 

The key Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) elements are education, training, public awareness, public participation, public access to information, and international cooperation. These elements were included in Article 6 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992 and restated in Article 12 of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 and are therefore integral to addressing climate change but do not yet have a national framework for implementation. The ACE National Strategic Planning Framework, authored by climate and climate justice leaders from 120 different organizations and networks in 2020, proposes an official U.S. ACE National Strategy which would:

  • Focus ACE activities on collective action, as well as on individual action.
  • Ensure decision-making processes encompass local participation, leadership, and consent.
  • Create safe and meaningful pathways for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and low-income communities—which bear the greatest burdens of climate impacts—to participate and lead in decision-making.
  • Design policies in ways that enable and encourage cross-sector collaboration and coordination for climate action, highlighting bright spots of such work for sharing.
  • Integrate ACE into the climate action plans of all government agencies and line-item budgets and encourage such work across all U.S.-based organizations.
  • Develop climate messaging that is highly salient, simple, pervasive, and contextualized for local communities.
  • Increase financial support and sustained commitments to ACE, including national efforts to ensure ACE coherence across sectors and scales. Such financial commitments should prioritize BIPOC, low-income communities, and local concerns, ensuring that barriers for accessing such funding at community scales are removed.

The UNFCCC United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommends the appointment of an ACE National Focal point, the creation of a national ACE team, and the development and implementation of an ACE national strategy. The U.S. has taken some steps, such as appointing two people as the ACE National Focal Points, one for international exchange and coordination and one for domestic planning and coordination. However, there are further steps the U.S. could take. Every five years, each country signed onto the Paris Climate Agreement must submit a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) outlining their progress since the last NDC and future efforts. Including the ACE goals in the U.S. NDC would hold the U.S. accountable to an ACE national strategy.

Opportunities for addressing climate change with ACE

By creating national and sub-national strategies that engage a range of stakeholders including policymakers, institutions, and frontline and marginalized communities, the goal is to foster sustainable adaptation, mitigation, and resilience strategies for climate change. The ACE national strategy to guide learning and communication around all climate action would aim to make the development and implementation of these strategies easier and faster for policymakers, create public goodwill, and ensure that climate policy is equitable and representative of all voices. The ACE approach focuses on sharing experiences and innovative practices, co-designing solutions, and providing financial and physical resources to increase shared ownership in and power to address the climate crisis across government structures, organizations, communities, and individuals. Successfully achieving future actions outlined in the U.S. NDCs will require support and action from local communities and the ACE framework ensures that communities are included and empowered.

In addition to rejoining the Paris Agreement, the American Rescue Plan Act, passed in March 2021, will provide the largest one-time federal investment in K-12 education. An ACE national strategy could provide guidance on how to use the unprecedented $123 billion in funding to address climate change through education. While there has been some movement towards including climate change science in standard curriculum, such as in the disciplinary core ideas for the Next Generation Science Standards and in smaller programs, such as ClimeTime in Washington state, there is an additional need to increase understanding of complex systems and to move beyond schooling as the only means for learning and education. Work on climate change education acts that include justice is ongoing, however, to incorporate climate change science and equity into learning so that it is available and actionable for the whole of society, there needs to be systematic coordination that is inclusive and coherent across the many perspectives and community boundaries that exist in the U.S. and across the world.

Though parties are urged to implement a strategy such as that outlined by ACE, no high-emitting national government or organization has committed to a coordinated ACE framework. If the Biden Administration wants to lead on tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad, this is an area where the U.S. could regain some authority globally as a leader in science and innovation.

What can you do?

ACE provides a helpful framework for getting involved at many different levels:

  • Individuals can engage with local school boards, community colleges, universities, labor organizations, and businesses in learning about climate change and climate actions that need to occur across all organization types.
  • Individuals, organizations, and governments need to ask national governments, through local representatives, for an ACE National Strategy process that engages all of society in designing and implementing ACE elements in local contexts.
  • If you engage at any of these levels, write about it! Writing about ACE elements can happen in research, in newspapers, in blog posts, in videos, and can be shared on social media using #ClimateActionACE.
  • Finally, talk about ways to address climate change in ways that can be heard (e.g.,, foster action, are grounded in principles of justice and inspire hope for the future!

By STPF Fellow Ashley M. Pierce, Ph.D. with Deb L. Morrison, Ph.D.

Image: Bowman, T., Morrison, D. (2020) An ACE National Strategic Planning Framework for the United States [Online]. Created in collaborative reflection with the U.S. ACE Community. Available at

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