What does Plaistow have to do with Paris?

10 years ago, 164 New Hampshire towns foreshadowed the climate accord

How is Alton connected to Australia, Meredith to Malta, Tuftonboro to Thailand or Stratham to Spain? They all have resolved to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

At town meetings in 2007, citizens in 164 New Hampshire towns passed the Climate Change Resolution. Led by 300 volunteers in 183 towns, the Climate Change Resolution called on the president and Congress to reduce emissions. The resolution urged “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.”

Local decision-making was embraced and partisanship was absent. Of the 164 towns that passed the 2007 Resolution, 99 towns voted for U.S. Senate candidate John Sununu in 2002 and the Bush-Cheney ticket won 84 of these towns in 2004.

As a result, local energy committees formed. Volunteers measured their town’s energy use — both in terms of costs to local taxpayers and emissions of greenhouse gases. Local governments then had the information they needed to commit to invest in energy-efficiency and clean energy projects in their towns.

In 2013, the NH Legislature dedicated $2 million in energy-efficiency funds to support energy-saving projects in towns and schools. In 2014, these funds were added to local commitments to pay for almost 200 projects, reducing energy costs in school districts, fire departments, local libraries and town buildings.

Fast-forward to 2015: By agreeing to be a party to the Paris Agreement, 197 countries (including the U.S.) submitted plans and 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.”

So it appears local New Hampshire towns and sovereign nations have in common a recognition of climate change and the resolve to reduce energy intensity. The U.S. brought our country’s plan to Paris, a plan designed with states’ input and that acknowledged state-level opportunities and challenges. And thanks to local officials who have represented New Hampshire in the regional market-based compact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, New Hampshire was in the driver’s seat, and properly so, with respect to conforming to our country’s plan.

While the lifetime energy savings realized by the Sarah Porter School in Langdon may be relatively modest, the collective energy savings from the 200 energy-efficiency projects statewide is profound. Local interest and demand are outpacing the energy-efficiency fund today.

We are comforted that Governor Sununu promotes local decision-making, because as far as New Hampshire and Paris is concerned, towns and cities are on board. Governor Sununu may have decided not to join other states in the Climate Alliance, but by calling for increasing energy-efficiency funding to local governments, he can support the local decision-making he champions.

New Hampshire towns, and now the cities of Portsmouth, Keene, Lebanon and Nashua, are connected with sovereign countries through the Paris 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.

Venu Rao and Charles Forcey serve on their towns’ energy committees in Hollis and Durham, respectively.

Categories: Opinion