On November 4, 2020, the US will complete its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.
While that controversial move will allow the federal government to dismiss consideration of climate change targets, it does not keep Americans from making a concerted effort to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and slow global warming.
Leaders from cities nationwide are filling the void, promoting clean transportation alternatives, boosting renewable energy usage, and developing energy efficiency policies, according to the Alliance for a Sustainable Future. The joint initiative between the US Conference of Mayors and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions said that 60% of 182 cities polled had new or enhanced climate change policies in 2019, and 57% were addressing climate matters in 2020.
A Critical Call to Action
Almost immediately after the late 2017 announcement that the US would pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, mayors and other city officials across the country began mobilizing. Rallying around initiatives such as America’s Pledge, spearheaded by then–California governor Jerry Brown and Michael Bloomberg, these leaders introduced measures that resembled what federal guidelines could look like.
Such city-level engagement is critical, considering that over half of the world’s people currently live in urban areas, including 84% of the US population. C40 Cities, an organization comprising the world’s largest municipalities, found that cities account for 70% of all global GHG emissions.
In the US, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago rank among the 10 largest GHG emitters in the world, while agriculture is responsible for just 9% of the country’s GHG emissions, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Ambitious City-Based Climate Targets
Many US cities and their global counterparts have passed comprehensive climate policies and plans that incorporate a variety of initiatives. For example:
- Tokyo, another city in the top 10, has its own cap-and-trade program for carbon usage.
- New York, the worst US emitter, rolled out a broad-ranging Green New Deal focused in part on the city’s huge real estate industry, featuring fines for building owners that fail to reduce energy use and emissions, along with a prohibition on glass exteriors.
- The island city-state Singapore, which ranks seventh among the world’s GHG emitters, is emphasizing energy efficiency and developing innovative low-carbon technologies.
- Los Angeles’ Green New Deal mandates that every municipally owned structure in the city be emissions-free by 2050 and includes plans to plant at least 90,000 trees by 2021.
According to the Sierra Club, more than 150 American cities large and small have pledged to derive 100% of their energy from renewable sources within the next 30 years to help achieve climate change targets. The public commitments range from Chicago to Norman, Oklahoma, in the heart of oil country.
Without federal leadership, participating in the global climate change targets set forth by the Paris accord will be challenging for the US. But a wide swath of cities is continuing to push the agenda by doing their part.