“Over past year or two, a carbon fee has been emerging as the best and maybe the only solution to climate change that can command significant bipartisan support,” PRG co-founder George T. Frampton, Jr., said during a carbon-pricing forum at the recent Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. He told the audience that neither cap-and-trade nor an EPA-led regulatory approach appears politically viable.

Since it is market-based, a fee appeals to many Republicans. Another panel member, Josiah Neeley of R Street, said that as a conservative he values a fee because it “best respects human freedom,” leaving it to the consumer to buy what he wants.

Frampton and others emphasized that the key to progress on climate change--and specifically on a carbon fee--is advocacy from the business community. “We have done visits to more than 250 members of Congress, both staff and members, and a large majority, including Republicans, believe climate change is occurring,” he said September 13. “But they tell us they need to know that the business community will have their back if they go public in support of a carbon fee.” Businesses, meantime, are wary of finding themselves “out there in the Valley of Death, hit by a tweet from the president for publicly backing a fee.”

The summit, Frampton said later, “was a demonstration of energy by those determined to show that President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement does not mean that the United States as a whole is abandoning the cause.”  

Thousands of mayors, climate activists and business leaders from around the world were on hand. The news at the summit included a report that 27 major cities around the world have seen emissions decrease over a five-year period and are now at least 10 percent lower than their peak. The cities include Berlin, Los Angeles, New York, and Paris, with a total population of about 54 million people.

There was no shortage of announcements at the meeting. Companies like Walmart and Unilever rolled out new programs to limit deforestation in their huge supply chains. Dozens of philanthropic groups committed $4 billion over the next five years to fight climate change. (The Chronicle of Philanthropy noted that there has been criticism that the philanthropic world has "chronically underfunded" climate work.)

“A key premise of the conference,” wrote Brad Plumer of The New York Times, “was that if a handful of leading-edge states, cities and businesses can demonstrate that it’s feasible — and even lucrative — to go green in their own backyards, they might inspire others to follow suit. That, in turn, could make it easier for national leaders to act more forcefully.” Most research shows that subnational and nonstate action has promise but cannot replace ambitious national policy as the cornerstone of climate mitigation.

Among those attending from other countries was Catherine McKenna, Canada’s minister of environment and climate change. She told The Times, “It is important to show the world that we’re still working with U.S. states. There really are practical things we can do together.”

One major goal of the summit was to build momentum. Frampton predicted that the debate on carbon pricing would accelerate after the elections, and he expects the energy generated in San Francisco to help build political support. Some lawmakers, he said, may be lured by the massive revenue stream that a carbon fee would generate. Speaking to the summit by video, Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo of Florida touted his carbon tax bill, which most observers believe he will re-introduce in the new Congress.

The momentum also could help during December’s COP24 negotiations in Poland, the most important since the 2015 Paris agreement. Poland is where countries are supposed to complete the rules governing that agreement. That would encompass everything from how countries should report on their climate actions to how donors will count and mobilize climate finance to aid developing countries. Preparatory negotiations in Bangkok this month left many of these issues unresolved.  Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a long-time player in climate policy, told The Times that there was “a real can-do spirit” at the summit. Looking ahead to the Poland negotiations, he said, “We’ll see if that mentality can permeate upward.”