Cities and counties have become important climate leaders because of their role as laboratories and incubators for climate solutions. Because their governments can be more responsive than those at the state and federal levels, and because and they are so interconnected, cities are playing a prominent role on the international stage in galvanizing climate action.
According to a 2011 United Nations Habitat report on human settlements, cities globally occupy only 2 percent of planet’s land mass but consume two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for up to 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. They also are incubators for big ideas and opportunities for ambitious climate action.
In the United States, local governments are procuring renewable energy and alternative fuel vehicles, and are pioneering energy-saving building codes, transit-oriented development, low-carbon mobility options, and climate resilience measures. Here are some of the key strategies they are pursuing:
Because cities use so much energy, they have great potential for reducing carbon emissions by cutting building energy use. A critical step is to improve the performance of the existing building stock, which presents numerous challenges. From there, cities are enacting tougher standards for new buildings, such as requiring LEED and EnergyStar certification.
City governments strive to set examples for climate action by pursuing energy efficiency in government operations. This has the dual benefits of reducing emissions and saving taxpayer dollars through lower operating costs.
Cities use incentive-based, voluntary, and mandatory policies for improving building performance, including energy disclosure and benchmarking programs. Local governments are also helping residents and businesses overcome the persistent hurdle of up-front costs by offering Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans, low-interest loans, grants, and rebates.