Cities Vow to Fill U.S. Void on Climate Change

By Stephen Joyce

Chicago is committing to electric cars and renewable energy as cities step up to fulfill an international climate change deal the U.S. has spurned.

“It’s better to have a national government that is setting the standard rather than a bunch of individual [city] standards,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) told Bloomberg Environment in an interview. “That said, as of now, yes, the leadership mantle on environmental sustainable policies is back at the city level.”

Cities will have to be the chief drivers of national climate policies in the absence of leadership from the Trump administration, according to more than 50 mayors who met in Chicago Dec. 5 to sign a pledge to reduce their emissions.

“Global carbon emissions and global temperatures are still on the rise: 2015 was the warmest year on record until 2016 became the warmest on record,” former President Barack Obama, who addressed the mayors who gathered to sign the climate agreement, said. “And what that tells us is that climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it.”

Paris Targets Included

The Chicago Climate Charter commits signatory cities from around the world to achieving the emissions reductions contained in the Paris Agreement on climate change reached in 2015, despite President Donald Trump’s announcement that the U.S. will leave the deal. The agreement entered into force Nov. 4, 2016.

The agreement requires the cities to track and publicly report city emissions, advocate for greater local authority and flexibility to take aggressive action on climate, and incorporate the realities of climate change and its impacts into local infrastructure and energy planning.

The agreement will allow Chicago to build on programs it has already started, Chris Wheat, Chicago’s chief sustainability officer, told Bloomberg Environment.

Chicago is pursuing policies that will require large buildings to track and disclose their energy consumption, put more electric cars in the city’s fleet, power all municipal buildings with renewable energy, and expand the environmental protection unit within the city’s Department of Public Health.

Mayors ‘Have to Lead’

Signing mayors said cities have little choice but to take the initiative to enhance environmental protections in the face of Trump administration rollbacks, even though the federal government will have to provide funding.

“Mayors across the country, the governors across this country, have to lead. We are stuck with that, at least for a couple more years,” Jackie Biskupski (D), mayor of Salt Lake City, said at the conference.

Emanuel agreed. “Where there is no EPA to police the polluters, we’ll police the polluters,” he said.

“I would prefer the federal government as a partner. But in a case where there is an absence of leadership, we’ll step in and use all the tools of authority to do exactly what we need to do, whether it’s on environment policy or climate change,” Emanuel said.

The need for greater cooperation among cities is evident by the environmental challenges they face, Steve Adler (D), mayor of Austin, Texas, said during the charter’s signing ceremony. The flooding of waterways, infrastructure deficiencies, and land use are regional environmental challenges, he said.