Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 7-1-2016


Climate change is a global phenomenon that is causing sea levels to rise, floods and droughts to become more severe, and countless other impacts. States are implementing many innovative initiatives that are helpful models for other state and federal action—catalyzing changes well beyond their borders. State and local governments possess important legal authorities in areas such as utilities regulation, infrastructure investment, and land use—governing important policies, programs and investments that have long-term consequences in the fight against climate change. More recently, states have begun to undertake efforts to prepare for the consequences of climate change—developing “adaptation plans” aimed at increasing resilience to extreme weather events, fires, and rising seas. Given the multiple causes and contributors to climate change, action at the state and local level is necessary—though clearly not sufficient—to address this global challenge. More comprehensive national policies are needed as well as successful international agreements that curb emissions. This article describes the efforts of states to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from two major sectors (transportation and electricity) and to prepare for the impacts of climate change. By examining state innovation, lessons can be shared with other states and the federal government to inform decisions regarding future national and international efforts to curb climate change and adapt to its consequences.

Publication Title

Harvard Law & Policy Review





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