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City Climate Policy

At-a-glance

  • Cities are addressing the causes of climate change through energy and transportation policies focused both on government operation and on community-wide activities.
  • Cities also are preparing for the impacts of climate change by strengthening their climate resilience.
  • These actions put cities on the world stage as leaders in the fight against climate change.

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:

Energy Efficiency

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.

 

Cities and counties have become important climate leaders because of their role as laboratories and incubators for climate solutions.

Low-Carbon Power

Many cities are employing innovative strategies to procure low-carbon energy, including power purchase agreements, green tariffs, and community choice aggregation. Cities also promote the deployment of renewables by piloting demonstration projects, leasing government-owned land for privately-owned installations, and updating regulations to facilitate investments. When cities are not able to cover their energy needs directly from low-carbon sources, they often purchase renewable energy credits (RECs) from projects elsewhere.

Clean Transportation

Another way cities can reduce emissions and energy use is through transportation policy. With large fleets of taxis, public transportation systems, and dense walkable neighborhoods, the options for getting around are far greater in a city than in the suburbs. Switching government fleets to alternative fuel vehicles like EVs, and encouraging citizens and businesses to do the same, is an emerging area of local climate action.

Climate Goals

To chart a course towards low-carbon communities, many U.S. cities have developed climate action plans and set greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. By conducting emissions inventories at regular intervals, cities can monitor their emissions and measure the success of enacted policies. This practice is becoming more common across the globe, and allows cities to track their progress towards climate goals and compare their efforts to one another.

City efforts are catching on nationally and worldwide:

  • More than 350 Climate Mayors in the U.S. have adopted the Paris Agreement goals for their cities. And more than 100 U.S. cities both large and small have pledged to transition their communities to 100% clean energy.
  • About two-thirds or more of mayors who responded to a recent survey by C2ES and The U.S. Conference of Mayors said they generate or buy renewable electricity to power city buildings or operations, buy green vehicles for municipal fleets, and have energy efficiency policies for municipal buildings. And they want to partner with the private sector do more.
  • More than 7,000 cities around the world have joined the Global Covenant of Mayors and have agreed to share, implement, and monitor their climate action plans on a common platform.