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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.” The alliance supports a robust, locally-relevant agenda of policy solutions that reduce carbon emissions and aid in the fight against climate change. 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, 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.
 Sengupta, Somini. “Copenhagen wants to show how cities can fight climate change.” New York Times, March 25, 2019.
 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.
 Silverstein, Ken. “New York City aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by using energy storage.” Forbes, September 22, 2017.
 “About the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy.” Global Covenant of Mayors. Accessed March 25, 2019. https://www.globalcovenantofmayors.org/about/
8 thoughts on “Fighting Climate Change at the Local Level”
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.
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.
Kyle, thanks for discussing an important facet of addressing the climate crisis. States and municipalities surely have taken the lead on climate in the absence of significant action in Congress on the issue. Your post reminds me of the book “Climate of Hope” written by Michael Bloomberg (former NYC mayor) and Carl Pope (former Sierra Club President) about how addressing climate change on the local level will yield economic and public health benefits, in addition to mitigating the global environmental challenges posed by climate change. I’d be curious to learn about what types of actions are being taken in areas which are less likely to acknowledge man’s significant contribution to climate change, and if partnerships like the one you describe have appeal to many Republican leaders or just primarily Democrats. Are there example of bipartisan climate action on the local level, or have mostly liberal leaders or moderate leaders serving liberal constituencies taking action? While some people may doubt the impact localities can have in combatting climate change, I’m glad you convey that they play an important role, especially without consistent federal commitments.
Interesting discussion of the role of municipalities in fighting climate change; at least in the United States, it is the local governments have born the brunt of climate change mitigation and adaptation. You mention the rooftop garden UHI reduction program in Denver. Many types of urban green infrastructure (parks, forests, rooftop gardens, green walls, etc.), as well as some non-green-space measures such as painting roofs white, can mitigate the UHI effect. In a previous class, I read about a proposal in the Netherlands to knock down a city block and replace it with a park, with the justification green space reduces UHI and provides psychological benefits to nearby residents; the obvious concerns was that the inhabitants of that block would not experience these benefits, as their homes would no longer exist. Although this is an extreme example, placement of new green infrastructure poses other concerns, such as gentrification of neighborhoods and unequal access to parks. Taking all of the options into account, I’d be interested in how cities such as Denver have addressed the distributional component of urban green infrastructure.
I enjoyed reading this blog post as it discusses a part of the climate challenge that does not often get talked about on the national scale. Lots of local communities have made strides towards mitigating climate change especially after the heartbreaking election of Trump and his consequent deregulation of environmental policies and placement of climate change as a issue that is not important. Working with LCV the summer of Trump’s election, it became apparent to me through discussions with coworkers and colleagues that local communities would become the new face of the environmental movement since the power at the national level had been taken away. In what ways to you think that local communities advocating for climate mitigation can grow at a national level? In other words, do you think its possible to use the momentum in other location to fuel other localities in the fight against climate change?
Climate change is often viewed as the scary problem that we don’t know how to fix – so why try? I think that many people feel the problem is too large for any small changes to actually effect change. I think your call to action for cities and local governments to start trying to do their part to fix this issue is incredibly interesting and effective. In our current national political climate, it is incredibly difficult to get “green” bills passed. It has become a partisan issue that is experiencing great gridlock. I think your suggestion for cities and local governments to step up would be the most effective way to go about real change at the current moment. I still do feel, however, that the the most effective way to truly change the way humans have an impact on our environment in the long term is through federal policies. As you addressed, this problem is massive and requires not only federal support in the US, but global support from all countries. However, global unity on this issue feels like it’s a long way away. This blog post provided a great suggestion for cities and local governments to do what they can now. It just goes to prove that we don’t have to wait on the slow-moving pace of the federal government to effect change on the issues that are important. Everyone can do their part to mitigate this problem. I felt like that message was clear here and very effective.
I am a huge advocate for efficient public transportation in cities. You mentioned it in passing in your article, but I think if more cities invested in carbon-efficient public transportation that also spanned a large part of their area and people regularly used, then the carbon-footprint from cities could be greatly reduced. Good public transportation is unique to cities–rural areas do not have to consider them and usually neither do the national governments except for big concerns. Cities alone have the ability to fully use large public transport networks for mitigating climate change. I personally would love to see Los Angeles improve its public transportation, as well as Atlanta and other large areas. I think this is also a relatively easy measure for all people to get behind–even climate-change deniers would enjoy the benefits from high-quality public transportation in their areas that can help them not have to drive themselves everywhere.
It is painful to see simple, easy and sensible steps, which can be really effective, are ignored ,while planninig big initiative for climate change. I live in Texas ,and seen some areas/subdivisions don’t even have recycling program. hopefully it will be done in the near future. One main initiative can be eliminating plastic bags from supermarket and grocery stores. Me and our family carry our purchased items either by hand or in the shopping cart to the car. We see they even double bag items un necessary. Please do something about it. Have small and big paper bags at the register,and let the shopper pick each bag for 10 and 15 cents . They can also choose to take the cart to load the goods in the car. All European countries effectively doing this.
Another step we need is public education on minimizing CO2 emission. Teach people through TV, Radio and other social medias on how can each individual and household participate in the making of a better world for our children/ the young generation. Public education is very important for everyone to understand the seriousness of the matter.