Mayors Zero In on Climate Action

The nation’s mayors emerged from the Annual U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) meeting in Boston with a renewed commitment to climate action and excitement for new renewable energy projects. 

Since the Paris Agreement was struck, mayors in the United States are increasingly playing a leadership role in adopting and promoting climate solutions. The Climate Mayors group has quickly expanded to 406 U.S. mayors, joining growing climate coalitions such as the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, C40 Cities, Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI)and others. The deepening engagement in climate comes at a critical time. Washington has stepped back from a leadership role on climate solutions while climate indicators continue to worsen:  the Mauna Loa Observatory recorded 411 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide in May 2018, the highest monthly average ever recorded.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh prefaced the annual meeting of U.S. mayors by hosting an International Climate Summit the day before the conference kickoff. Walsh announced that Boston, joined by Chicago; Evanston, Ill.; Houston; Los Angeles; Orlando, Fla.; and Portland, Ore., would explore efforts to pool buying power to get more competitive prices for renewable energy by initiating a request for information (RFI) process.

Climate change conversations were woven throughout the weekend, and the appetite for action was tangible among the mayors discussing an agenda of infrastructure, innovation, and inclusion.

The cities of Schenectady, N.Y. and Austin, Tex., along with a handful of others, were recognized with Climate Protection Awards for their efforts to deploy renewable energy and smart technologies to improve efficiency of city services.

The Alliance for a Sustainable Future, led by recently-appointed Chair and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, hosted a forum at the annual meeting. The Alliance featured C40’s climate resource center and the Alliance to Save Energy’s building code carbon calculator, as well as a discussion of best practices of mayors working to reduce emissions. The USCM climate team also discussed how city governments can use new and existing policy levers, such as renewable energy procurement and street and spatial planning authorities, to create low-carbon communities.

 The meeting culminated with a slate of new climate and energy resolutions from American mayors:

  • The group amended a 100 percent renewable energy resolution passed last year and expanded it slightly to include existing waste-to-energy incineration as an allowable energy source.
  • Mayors also approved a statement opposing the Trump Administration’s proposal to require grid operators to buy electricity generated from carbon-based fuels, but mayors did call on Congress and the administration to strengthen programs to assist and retrain displaced workers in carbon-based industries.
  • The group backed resolutions supporting energy storage and offshore wind development and endorsed the use of the best available science to pursue climate goals.

These outcomes are part of a notable shift by local leaders across the world to commit to specific climate actions, access information about the strategies to make good on those commitments, and begin refining and implementing solutions in their towns.

In any city, progress towards environmental goals can stumble as city departments encounter competing priorities, budget constraints, and institutional inertia. Keeping the challenges and commitments high on the leadership agenda, increasing local government coordination, and tapping into a growing network of supportive NGOs that can provide technical expertise may prove to be keys for success.

With a focus on city action and collaborations to support accelerated implementation, the Alliance for a Sustainable Future was formed as a partnership between the USCM and C2ES to help cities address these challenges. By sharing best practices that can make more sustainability efforts fruitful ones – learning from each other’s successes and failures – the Alliance aims to grow the impact mayors and cities have in innovating and realizing new climate solutions.