Fighting Climate Change at the Local Level

Climate scientists and decision-makers at all levels of government around the world agree on this – any approach to tackle climate change must be multi-faceted, with support from the local, state, and federal levels. Cities can aim to reduce their carbon footprint by transitioning their local energy grid, converting public transportation systems, and creating sustainable development. This poses an obvious question: Even in a city of many people, such as Los Angeles, California, with a growing population of over 4 million people, how can one municipality’s actions have an impact on the growing threat of climate change? Mayors and local government leaders all around the world are discovering new ways to form a collective fight against climate change.

 

The impacts of change at the local level can have a substantial effect on global warming because over half of the world’s population now lives in cities.[1] While agriculture and other rural issues play a huge role in the climate crisis, cities are both creating and enduring the effects of climate change, so they should act to combat it. Local governments have been successful both in the US and abroad. In Copenhagen, a smaller city of just over 400,000, they have changed public transportation, waste management, and their energy grid, all in efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.[2] With plans to be net carbon neutral by 2025, they are fighting against the less progressive agenda of their state as a whole.

 

Much of this effort stems from a grassroots network of citizens who are passionate about fighting climate change and see the quickest actions occur at the local level. In late 2017, Denver citizens voted to approve a stringent mandate for rooftop gardens, against the preference of their mayor, which would aim to reduce the city’s “heat island” effect from heat-radiating roofs.[3] Even cities that have been less urgent to pursue emissions reductions, such as New York, have set goals reducing greenhouse gas emittance by 75% in the coming decades–creating sources of energy storage throughout their grid.[4] This eases some of the concerns that New Yorkers have about energy reliability as they transition to a more sustainable grid.

 

At the base of this worldwide commitment to green policy at the local level sits the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.[5] This organization is an “international alliance of cities and local governments with a shared long-term vision of promoting and supporting voluntary action to combat climate change.”[6] The alliance supports a robust, locally-relevant agenda of policy solutions that reduce carbon emissions and aid in the fight against climate change.[7] It allows cities and local governments to serve as partners, supporting one another and offering solutions to governance issues as they arise. The alliance is made up of cities from both developing and developed nations in 6 continents[8], serving as a leader in local government effort to reduce the impacts of climate change. This movement is representative of a collective shift towards progressive climate action starting at the local level.

 

Local efforts to fight climate change have been highly successful and are particularly important in the United States, where environmental initiatives often face partisan challenges at the federal and state levels. Although the issue is multi-faceted and must be approached using a multi-level strategy, the local government of any city, town, or county is a great place to start.

 

[1] Sengupta, Somini. “Copenhagen wants to show how cities can fight climate change.” New York Times, March 25, 2019.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Murray. Jon. “Denver’s green roof initiative may face big changes that provide less-costly options — but its lead backer is OK with that.” Denver Post, May 14, 2018.

[4] Silverstein, Ken. “New York City aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by using energy storage.” Forbes, September 22, 2017.

[5] “About the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy.” Global Covenant of Mayors. Accessed March 25, 2019. https://www.globalcovenantofmayors.org/about/

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

2 thoughts on “Fighting Climate Change at the Local Level

  1. Especially with the increasing trend of people migrating to larger cities, I agree that local-level initiatives will be very successful at both mitigating and adapting to climate change in the near future. There are lots of examples of cities paving the way for renewable energy and low-carbon transitions throughout the world, including the ones you’ve identified in Copenhagen and Denver, as well as others from a diverse range of populations and regions such as Freiburg, Germany and Reykjavik, Iceland. The American Cities Climate Challenge is another national initiative that aims to tap into this local drive to combat climate change. Growing up, I had thought that federal action was more necessary and would be more effective at climate change initiatives, but through learning about local and state policies I agree that a multifaceted approach–perhaps with an emphasis on cities and municipalities being policy laboratories–will be most effective.

  2. When reading about the impacts of climate change, it’s so difficult to believe that the disastrous impacts of climate change can be even touched by local efforts, but you’re absolutely right that some of the most successful efforts have been spearheaded on smaller scales. I think you make an important point about treating climate change as an important problem for all levels of government – everyone needs to start treating sustainability as a factor in all facets of life. But it’s also important to acknowledge that the large majority of emissions do not come from a single person’s actions but rather companies and industries that ignore the consequences of massive waste and emission. The fact that global or national policy which attempts to address this discrepancy directly tends to be un-successful or under-achieving doesn’t mean that we can successfully mitigate climate change by ignoring the largest polluters and focusing on our own personal issues. It’s true, though, that local achievement is a start, and that sort of visible progress may inspire broader-reaching, impactive legislation.

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