Can Cities Protect the Climate Better than Nations?

Big cities in the U.S. and around the world are affirming their commitments to reduce emissions, pass green laws, and help their residents adapt to future changes. In many cases, these cities are acting without the help of, or even in opposition to, national governments.

The differences are particularly stark between President Trump’s federal government, which has already taken a variety of anti-climate stances, and municipal governments which are putting forward “backstop” measures to help keep emissions dropping and investment in clean energy growing.

California and beyond

For many cities, policies for mitigating and adapting to climate change have been in place or in the works for years. And city leadership doesn’t feel any pressure to backpedal in the face of the federal government’s negative stance on climate issues. A director at C40, a network of cities that works on various green policies across the globe, says that Trump’s election in November became a “rallying cry” among mayors who want to preserve current policies and push for even tougher climate action in their cities going forward.

In California, whose state legislators are also making moves to advance a strict pro-climate agenda to counteract, major cities are taking climate policy into their own hands. San Francisco and Los Angeles both have ambitious plans in place to become increasingly sustainable cities. San Francisco aims to become a no-waste city, while the Los Angeles city council unanimously decided last year that the city should study the transition to 100% clean power.

Other West Coast city governments have voted in the past month to divest from the Dakota Access Pipeline — moves that can signal their support for leading on climate change.

Not just for liberal cities

City-level leadership on emissions and climate issues doesn’t just happen in the big, liberal cities on the coasts. In swing-state Florida, local governments in St. Petersburg, which was heavily impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and Miami have started emissions-reduction programs and strategies to adapt to sea-level rise.

Annise Parker, mayor of Houston, Texas from 2010-2016 helped drive a climate-friendly agenda in one of the country’s biggest oil and gas towns. And Muriel Bowser, current mayor of Washington, D.C., is strengthening that city’s commitment to wind and solar power despite the lack of support from the city’s newest resident.

Many mayors and city government leaders have taken action because their residents are already feeling the effects of climate change. But they also emphasize that the transition to clean energy is saving their cities money — even the Trump administration’s denial isn’t likely to stop that ball rolling.

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