Ecology Law Currents is the online-only publication of Ecology Law Quarterly, one of the nation’s most respected and widely read environmental law journals. Currents features short-form commentary and analysis on timely environmental law and policy issues.
Subnational governments, working with non-governmental advocates, drove climate action during the Trump administration while rebuffing federal rollbacks. Under the Biden administration, focus may initially shift towards the federal government, but the subnational network is critical to continued progress on climate change. I use the term “networked federalism” to describe how a horizontal, interconnected, and polycentric collection of states, local governments, Tribes, and advocates provides the resilient frame needed to buttress national action. Indeed, this structure mirrors the successful structure of the Paris Agreement —in which international action depends on subsidiary national contributions. A networked, federalist system of subnational climate action will be critical to continuing success, and should be nurtured and expanded. In this article, I discuss barriers to federal climate action under the Biden administration, trace the important role of subnationals in the climate movement, and lay out a policy agenda for strengthening subnational networks over the next four years.