Hope for near-term progress: City mayors and local ballot initiatives

Mexico City, mayors summit

This month, Mexico City hosted officials from 82 cities around the world, all ready to advance climate action.

Hope for near-term progress: City mayors and local ballot initiatives

By Stephanie Sides

With Donald Trump taking the oath of office as president on January 20, there is considerable fear or, at best, uncertainty with respect to how his administration will respond to climate change. These perceptions have been reinforced by several of Trump’s cabinet-level nominees who appear to be climate change deniers and close allies of the fossil fuel industry.

But, fortunately, that’s not the whole story. In the absence of strong federal leadership on this issue, we are seeing many encouraging signs at the local level. City mayors and other leaders, and far-ranging citizen-approved city ballot measures, all show promise in several states and could serve as a road map of climate action for the next four years.

This is especially exciting because cities consume 2/3 of the world’s energy and are responsible for creating more than 70% of the world’s harmful CO2 emissions. If they lead on climate action, we can expect continuing improvements over the next four years.

City leaders attend international Mayors’ Summit

During the first week of December, officials from 82 cities around the world, including 40 mayors, met in Mexico City. This event, the sixth biennial Mayors’ Summit, drew together “mayors and leading thinkers from around the world to advance a shared agenda through collaboration and knowledge sharing, and increase visibility about the global potential of climate actions in cities.”

The represented cities belong to a group called C40, launched in 2005, to fight climate change. This organization focuses on building trust relationships to ensure that ideas, solutions, lessons, questions, and even friendly competition can help us make progress against climate change. To meet the goal of keeping the average global temperature increase to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above the preindustrial temperature, the C40 has set emissions goals for all participating cities. These cities represent more than 50 countries, 20 time zones, and 26 languages. Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, is the chair-elect.

Cities send a strong message to President-elect Trump

This summit came on the heels of an open letter, dated November 22, from U.S. mayors in blue and red states to Trump, calling on him to continue current efforts to fight climate change. In the letter, the mayors asked to partner with him to leverage the massive infrastructure funds he proposes to target climate change and confirm the U.S. commitment to the Paris accord. As of December 14, 47 current and incoming mayors representing more than 34 million citizens had signed the letter.

Though CCL’s efforts are targeted at the national level, this kind of initiative on the city and local level is exciting. “We applaud the leadership of mayors around the world in signing this letter and keeping the issue of climate change at the forefront in the face of discouraging signals from the incoming administration,” said Craig Preston, CCL Southern California Coordinator.

The letter said that, “We have joined together in the U.S. Mayors’ National Climate Action Agenda (MNCAA), or the #ClimateMayors, in addressing the greatest challenge of our time, climate change.” Furthermore, the letter stated that impacts from climate change could cost the American economy $500 billion annually by 2050, with the expectation that that number will grow without concerted effort to stem greenhouse gases. The mayors noted that the “cost of prevention pales in comparison to the cost of inaction.” Surely these numbers ought to convince Trump, the businessman, to reconsider his resistance to climate change measures.

The letter went on to note that the mayors’ efforts have been bolstered by citizen commitment, specifically approval on November 8 of more than $200 billion in local tax-funded measures. 70% of voters in Los Angeles County—where the car is king—approved a $120 billion, multi-decade investment in public transit. Seattle approved $54 billion in similar investments. And Austin approved a record-setting $720 million mobility bond.

The writers urged Trump to “expand and accelerate these local initiatives which the people resoundingly supported.” Undaunted by the discouraging election results, they concluded the letter with a strong statement of their joint intention to forge ahead even in the absence of federal support. This resolve will be key to near-term progress, and will ensure that climate action continues to move forward during the next four years.

Stephanie Sides
Stephanie Sides is a freelance writer who works primarily with academics in science, medicine, and engineering.