Commentary: Cities Are Acting On Climate Change. Will The New Administration Join?

This article was published in The Huffington Post on December 14, 2016. 

Cities Are Acting On Climate Change. Will The New Administration Join?

By Sam Adams

Sam Adams is Director of WRI United States. He was mayor of Portland, Oregon from 2009 to 2012.

Mayors don’t have the luxury of ignoring on-the-ground hazards of our changing planet: The lives and livelihoods of their constituents are front and center. Local officials cannot afford to wait – and fortunately, they’re not.

Despite some troubling signs around appointments in the new administration, President-elect Trump can still take action on climate and energy that will enhance competitiveness, drive job creation, and protect America’s interests, coastlines and assets. U.S. cities generate 85 percent of the nation’s GDP, so they are great place to look for economic growth.

Mayors and local leaders are leading the way on climate and clean energy – from renewable energy initiatives to public transport to building efficiency. They are looking to invest in local infrastructure and want to ensure it is built to last. Since the election, their motivation has only increased.

City leaders are acting on climate because it’s in their political and economic self-interest to do so. They see how communities are being impacted by a warming world, whether it’s the recent devastating fires around Gatlinburg, Tennessee; severe droughts in Tucson, Arizona; rising sea levels in Miami, Florida; or epic flooding after Hurricane Matthew around Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Mayors have to deal with these costly impacts. They know that acting today to prepare their communities can save money over the long term.

Estimates suggest that the impacts from climate change will cost the global economy $500 billion annually by 2050, including from coastal flooding, more extreme weather and diminished crop yields. U.S. cities on the shoreline are particularly at risk, and their harbors are access points for goods that are transported throughout America’s heartland.

The good news is that taking action to tackle climate change in cities will boost economic growth, create jobs and make our cities more dynamic. Low-carbon cities are better designed, less congested and more efficient, which makes them more productive.

The New Climate Economy has found that smart urban growth can save the United States $200 billion annually. For example, making U.S. cities more transit-friendly could reduce car use by 50 percent and household expenditure by 20 percent, while cutting greenhouse gases. Climate-smart measures can also boost employment. For example, spending on public transport has been found to create more job growth, by 10 to 20 percent, over road construction.

Cities that embrace a low-carbon future can also help to attract businesses. Many companies are looking to locate their businesses and operations where they can get access to low-carbon energy. Major companies like Walmart, Mircrosoft and Amazon are all investing in and increasing their sourcing from renewable energy.

Another reason mayors are strong supporters of climate action is that they must listen to their residents. People, including younger generations, want their cities to be efficient and climate resilient. In November’s election, voters approved more than $200 billion in local, tax-funded measures for climate action and public transit, including in Los Angeles, Seattle and Austin.

Mayors from red states and blue states alike have been stepping up to make their voices heard on climate change, and urging the federal government to keep up its support.

Last month, mayors from 37 U.S. cities, including the six largest cities in the country, signed an open letter calling on President-elect Trump to take firm action on climate. As they write,

“We ask that you lead us in expanding the renewable energy sources we need to achieve energy security, address climate change and spark a new manufacturing, energy and construction boom in America.”

Another 1,000 U.S. mayors have signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, urging the federal government to pass legislation to reduce greenhouse gases.

National support is essential, but mayors aren’t waiting.

When I was mayor of Portland, Oregon, we launched a five-year economic development strategy to create jobs and make the city a vibrant and desirable place to live. From 2009-2014, 15,000 jobs were created, 50 percent over our goal. As a part of the strategy, we launched an initiative called “We Build Green Cities” to promote Portland’s clean technology and clean energy exports to generate new local business opportunities. We made agreements with Japan, Colombia, China and Brazil, leveraging our expertise on smart cities to help them develop sustainability plans, while creating local jobs.

San Diego, under Mayor Faulconer, is the now the largest U.S. city committed to going 100 percent renewable, and the mayor has allocated $127 million to climate change-related projects in the city’s 2017 budget. Last year, Seattle issued the country’s largest-ever municipal green bond, worth nearly $1 billion, for regional transit projects, including more than 30 miles of light rail extensions. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio launched a suite of new initiatives to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the city’s 1 million-plus buildings. Houston is currently drawing more than 75 percent of its power from green power sources, such as wind and solar.

Cities are also banding together to amplify their impact. One-hundred and twenty-nine U.S. cities, including New York, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles, have joined the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, a coalition of more than 7,000 cities from 119 countries dedicated to reducing emissions and strengthening climate resilience.

Cities will be critical to cutting emissions and moving to a strong, clean energy future, but they cannot do it alone. Ultimately, it will take national leadership to put policies and incentives in place to ensure a low-carbon future. Doing so will protect Americans, drive innovation and create jobs.

Cities are doing their part. Will the new administration join them?

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