How ‘America Is All In’ is focused on community subnational action at COP28

We Don’t Have Time recently caught up with Elizabeth Lien, the newly appointed Senior Director of Federal Climate Policy at WWF, to discuss the latest developments within ‘America is All In’. As we approach COP28, the conversation sheds light on the coalition's fresh leadership and upcoming initiatives.

Elizabeth, can you help us understand the origins and objectives of America is All In?
America is All In launched in 2017 after the Trump administration withdrew from the Paris Agreement. [The coalition] included subnational partners, such as governments, the private sector, academia, and later, higher education institutions, tribes, religious institutions, and other groups. [This coalition] doubled down on the climate agenda and said, ‘We Are Still In,’ even though the federal government, at that time, was taking a step back.
Since the Biden administration came into office, the [‘We Are Still In’] Coalition rebranded as ‘America is All In’ to focus on climate ambition and climate action in a significant way. We focus on coalition services such as education and technical assistance. We also do a lot of convenings and storytelling to bring folks together for tent-pole events like New York Climate Week and COP.”
You mentioned some rebranding of America is All In. Tell us more.
“On President Biden’s first day in office, the administration returned to the Paris Agreement. It became clear that climate would be a significant priority for this administration, and ‘America is All In’ recognized this. The coalition saw the administration as a partner needed to make progress at the subnational level and focused on subnational work in partnership with the federal government. It also acts as a model to other international partners thinking about ways to enlist subnational partners for climate action. That's created several other subnational programs that WWF International helps support in several countries around the world.”
Managing domestic efforts in the United States and serving as a model for other countries is a big task. Beginning with the domestic front, could you provide examples of subnational initiatives that America is All In supported? How do you see the impacts on communities?
“There are a couple of examples that I could point to. I am going to raise two. One is Oak City Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, which has a long history and dynamic community. They invested in solar panels because they liked having independence off the grid to maintain power during blackouts. With financial support from the Inflation Reduction Act [IRA] and some state incentives, they can pay off the balance of their debt owed on the solar panels after five years. Yet, solar panels have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years. In essence, there will be free power after those five years. Those savings are reinvested in the parish and the community, which is significant.
The other example is in Erie, Pennsylvania. Here, the [city] had more to think through – as a way to provide emergency services in the event of power blackouts or brownouts. The city figured out who had the most real estate on a roof, and a fire station [was chosen] to invest in solar power and battery backup systems. Folks could bring their insulin or other medications to the fire station to refrigerate for up to four days. So that's another example of using IRA resources and a city’s ingenuity to ensure they fully utilized space.”
Looking internationally, what are some of the subnational programs that excite you?
“When I was at the Treasury Department, I worked on negotiating the Just Energy Transition Partnerships, the first of which was with the South African government. South Africa is at an interesting point where the federal government is going through a significant energy transformation to shift from coal to renewable energy. The dynamics within the country are such that provinces and communities are engaged and vocal about the transition. With communities included in the process, it ensures that the energy transformation is equitable. That sort of partnership has been wonderful to see. In my current position, there's this through-line of supporting communities to decide what their future will look like in a way that aligns with their climate goals.
I want to highlight these other subnational groups because ‘America is All In’ is a model that has worked. It sprang up by communities, businesses, and states saying, ‘We are not okay with the direction of travel of the federal government, and we are going to stand up to say that this is unacceptable from our standpoint.’ We need to voice what this coalition believes is the right path forward. So it's been helpful to understand the international context in order to translate the US model to partners who are trying to think through these issues now.”
Community involvement is a key for you, and America Is All In. Is there anything you are excited about for how to approach grassroots community action compared to top-down policies?
“I'm excited about our partnership with the Bullard Center. Dr. Robert Bullard is the father of environmental justice in the United States. Their focus is on the communities that have received the brunt of environmental pollution in the past or are at more risk. These communities need to be a part of the conversation so that the economic benefits of federal programs, like the Inflation Reduction Act [IRA], can benefit them. Thinking through how to bring in those voices as we convene mayors, governors, business leaders, and everyone else is critical and a throughline in all our work. It has to be community-led and community-defined. It really cannot be top-down. What is helpful to be top-down are resources as part of the IRA that provide critical investment for companies to recognize and invest in environmental justice issues.”
How do you see America Is All In’s role in the upcoming climate negotiations in Dubai?
COP28 is going to be very interesting. Bloomberg Philanthropies and the COP 28 Presidency have created the Local Climate Action Summit, and ‘America is All In’ will design some of the events. The summit will highlight US leadership to provide opportunities for US mayors, governors, private sector leaders, and other social leaders to compare notes and discuss how to further climate action in their communities to be distilled, encapsulated, and shared with the broader COP community.
We also have a suite of programming where we highlight all of the fantastic work that is going on in the United States. We have new data on the uptake of renewables deployment in the United States since the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. Climate Power recently came out with this report that points to a significant uptick in the number of jobs created, projects announced, and investment dollars out the door to support the renewable energy transition. We [also] have three days of programing in the WWF Panda Pavilion or the ‘America's All In’ Pavillion. It is a great opportunity to hear from experts on everything ranging from agricultural issues to environmental justice to the US federal view of the future of the EV market.”
Within your suite of programming, what are you personally most excited for?
“I am really excited about a couple of panels. One focuses on the coal-to-clean transition, where we would like to highlight the US story and hear from other communities around the world transitioning from coal to clean. COP28 provides that opportunity to learn from each other in a way that other events don't. We have a lot to share and a lot to learn. These international climate meetings allow us to have conversations we often don't prioritize daily.
I am also excited about the Local Climate Action Summit. Mayors in the United States have so much experience charting paths and being practical in using tools at their disposal and creating tools along the way. Mayors around the world are the same in that way. You just have to be super creative. Sharing experiences will provide that spark [creativity] that can carry things forward in many instances.
We are currently updating the strategy for ‘America Is All In’ to think about how to be most impactful for our members. COP is the sponge to learn what others are doing and then readjust to consider how you can be most impactful. This is the decade of action. If the United States doesn't act as a leader and show progress by 2030, we will not be able to meet our climate commitments. All of our partners must be laser-focused on making progress and implementing programs as quickly and as effectively as possible.”
You mentioned some reworking of strategy. What can we expect to see in 2024 for America Is All In?
“I can give some high-level themes. When it comes to the ‘America Is All In’ leadership, we are extraordinarily lucky to have Gina McCarthy as the managing co-chair. She is engaged, dynamic, and thoughtful about working with us to ensure the strategy is as impactful as possible. By bringing in Lisa Jackson from Apple, we now have a voice from the private sector and the tech industry. We also have Vi Lyles, mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, Michael Bloomberg, and Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State. We are identifying coalition gaps and bringing those voices from other economic sectors to have a more balanced view.
We are also enhancing our coalition services. We partner with the Ceres and RMI to determine where investment can make the most impact. We will continue to provide the technical services that our members lean on, like the Federal Climate Funding Hub, which updates deadlines for IRA applications, and other federal programs to help interpret some of those programs. We will continue this focus on convenings and events to foster peer learning and celebrate milestones. Then, we will ensure that all our communications and storytelling focus on highlighting stories that show impact and share diversity.”
Speaking of engagement and narratives, where can people tune in to watch the discussions happening in your Pavillon at COP28?
“We have a dedicated website on the ‘America Is All In’ platform dedicated to COP28 activities. All of our events, except for private discussions, will be live-streamed. We will have some social media kits coming out beforehand to get folks excited for what I think will be a very dynamic COP.”
Follow ‘America is All In’ here! Thank you, Elizabeth Lien, for taking the time to speak with us!

  • George Kariuki

    19 w

    I am impressed with the work that America Is All In is doing to address climate change at the subnational level.

    • Munene Mugambi

      19 w

      This is welcome news in the environment field especially as we deal with effects of rampant climate change

      • Abraham Jok Atem

        19 w

        Coming around beautiful updates like this pleases my heart

        • Gorffly mokua

          19 w

          This is impressive!💚👏👏

          • winnie nguru

            19 w

            Beautiful news

            • zelda ninga

              19 w

              This is the kind of news we want to hear the commitment towards climate change.

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