Cities Offer Own Response to Climate Change

New York City
Mayor Bloomberg of New York City is one of many mayors adopting new policies to make cities greener.

On April 22, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City announced a 25-year plan to create “the first environmentally sustainable 21st-century city.” But the 127 projects, laws, and initiatives the mayor proposes—from charging drivers US$8 a day to enter Manhattan to increasing the energy efficiency of new buildings by 20 percent—are only a handful of the many local-level environmental policies cropping up across the United States. While the nation trails many countries in tackling climate change at the federal level, at the local level, municipal authorities from around the world are contacting U.S. cities like San Francisco and Seattle to learn about innovations that work, according to Newsweek.

In State of the World 2007: Our Urban Future, the Worldwatch Institute notes that cities cover only 0.4 percent of the Earth’s surface but generate the bulk of world carbon emissions, making urban areas key to alleviating the climate crisis. When the United States refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, which commits countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to specific levels by 2012, Seattle mayor Greg Nickels determined that cities could still do their part. He developed the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, through which participating cities strive to meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol targets in their own communities. 494 mayors representing some 64 million Americans—more than the population of France—have committed to the agreement.

The contract has fostered creative local initiatives in such areas as energy efficiency, transportation, and urban planning, according to Newsweek. Mayor Robert Cluck of Arlington, Texas, for example, plans to replace the city’s incandescent stoplights with more efficient LED (light-emitting diode) lights. And in Salt Lake City, Utah, owners of fuel-efficient vehicles will be rewarded for their purchases by not having to pay municipal parking meters. Authorities in Miami, Florida, are working to make the city more pedestrian-friendly, and Chicago, Illinois, has some 300 green roofs, or roofs planted with grass and other vegetation, established or under development.

Cities outside the United States have also made advances in the fight against climate change, Worldwatch notes in State of the World 2007. In Rizhao, China, a government program enabled 99 percent of households in the central districts to obtain solar water heaters, and the majority of traffic signals and streetlights are now solar powered. And in Bogotá, Colombia, engineers improved upon the bus rapid transit system to create the TransMilenio, which has helped decrease air pollution. Whether these activities are in China, Colombia, or elsewhere, authorities see a clear benefit to locally grown environmental initiatives. “We're not talking about some broad international policy that doesn't trickle down,” Mayor Dan Coody of Fayetteville, Arkansas, told Newsweek. “Cities are where the rubber meets the road.”

 

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.