Mayors Leading the Way on Climate – 2020

As part of the Alliance’s ongoing work plan to promote sustainability and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mayors across the country were asked about their city’s efforts in the areas of low-carbon transportation, energy efficiency in new and existing buildings, and green electricity and conservation efforts. The sustainability questionnaire is designed to determine innovative practices in key local policy areas, identify trends, and define opportunities where additional assistance may be needed. The responses of more than 180 American cities in the third installment provides a snapshot of local and potential future action as well as assisting in the development of a baseline of city efforts.

Climate action at the local government level and coordination with the business community now play a more important role than ever in developing climate solutions. As the second largest carbon emitting country, the climate and energy policies of the United States set an example for the world community in the global effort to stem climate change. Many American cities and businesses are taking on a leadership role, embracing the responsibility of addressing this challenge for their citizens and employees. Broad coordination efforts such as “We Are Still In” and “America’s Pledge” have grown to help fill the vacuum of national leadership. Our survey shows that cities are uniquely positioned to advance solutions and continue to step up to the challenge. However, they can’t do it alone. Additional results and advancements could be achieved through additional resources and support at the state and federal level.

Key Findings:

Climate Impacts are Affecting Cities and they are Responding

  • 96 percent of cities are feeling the impacts of a changing climate. Cities and their economic vitality are already threatened by climate change, with nearly every city experiencing a change related to at least one climate impact in the past five years. The most prevalent changes cities reported during this time include heavy rain events or inland flooding (80 percent of cities), heat waves (62 percent), and drought (48 percent). Additionally, 8 cities noted population relocation has occurred due to extreme weather.
  • 60 percent of cities have launched or significantly expanded a climate initiative or policy over the last 12 months, and 57% of cities will launch or significantly expand a climate initiative or policy this year.

Cities are Promoting Transportation Solutions

  • One third of city fleet vehicles are alternative fuel vehicles. While gasoline and diesel vehicles make up more than half of each of the four classes of municipal vehicles, 34% are alternative fuel vehicles, demonstrating a commitment to addressing the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions through low-carbon operations. Large cities lead in the adoption of hybrid and plug-in hybrid passenger vehicles, as well as all-electric buses, a very recent addition to the market.
  • Nearly 60 percent of city governments have green vehicle purchasing policies and an additional 26 percent are considering them. More than 85 percent of new municipal vehicle purchases will be made in cities with a green vehicle purchasing policy, signalling significant potential for fleet decarbonization over the coming years.
  • 61 percent of cities support public electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, with an additional 26 percent considering such action. This demonstrates a growing interest in providing the infrastructure necessary for clean vehicle deployment.
  • Bike-share and scooter-share services are the most commonly cited transportation options cities are considering among an expanding slate of mobility choices.

Renewable Energy Use is Growing

  • 51 percent have a renewable energy goal, and an additional 21 percent are considering setting a goal.
  • 67 percent of cities procure renewable electricity for municipal operations. Forty-one of the responding cities cover more than 25 percent of government electricity demand with renewable sources. 14 cities cover all their municipal needs with renewable sources, an increase from 8 in 2018.
  • 54 percent of cities help citizens and businesses adopt renewable electricity options. An additional 15 percent of cities are considering offering such support. Renewable policies and programs for residents and the private sector appear more common in cities with citywide renewable energy goals.

Cities are Taking on Building Efficiency

  • Two-thirds of cities have energy efficiency policies for municipal buildings (67 percent for new buildings and 64 percent for existing buildings). In addition, more than half have policies or incentives for new commercial and residential buildings.
  • 71 percent of cities conduct routine energy audits for city buildings and another 16 percent of cities are considering the practice.
  • 29 percent of cities support or require energy benchmarking of commercial buildings, an emerging local policy strategy.

Partnerships Remain a Vital Strategy for Climate Action

  • 90 percent or more of cities are partnering or interested in partnering with other local governments in pursuit of transportation, renewable electricity, and energy efficiency solutions.
  • More than 87 percent of cities are partnering or interested in partnering with businesses in pursuit of transportation, renewable electricity, and energy efficiency solutions.
  • Cities rate highest their utility partnerships for energy efficiency. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent, utility partnerships around energy efficiency received a score of 3.7. Partnership scores for renewables and low-carbon transportation were slightly lower, at 3 and 3.1, respectively.

The private sector and nonprofit community are playing a vital role in supporting local leaders. Cities report strong collaborations have already been established, and also indicate real opportunities for new and expanded partnerships with other local governments and businesses to advance climate solutions. Increased collaboration will help more cities achieve more broader implementation, a strategy the Alliance for a Sustainable Future is designed to facilitate.

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