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Study Shows The Power Of US Cities To Mitigate Climate Change And Steps They Need To Take To Adapt

July 8, 2009

CDP / ICLEI report details greenhouse gas emissions and climate protection actions of 18 US cities

U.S. municipal governments are showing leadership by voluntarily accounting for and reducing greenhouse gas emissions resulting from their operations. They also recognize the huge potential to influence long-term reductions from the residents and businesses in their communities, according to a new report.

The report summarizes findings of a joint project by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and ICLEI- Local Governments for Sustainability USA (ICLEI), launched in 2008 to encourage cities to voluntarily disclose greenhouse gas emissions and other information related to climate change.

The CDP Cities report, written by UK-based CarbonSense, found that many cities are taking strong action to address the challenges of climate change, such as by retrofitting government owned buildings, converting fleets to hybrids, and beginning to plan for the long-term impacts of climate change. However, as the scale of the climate challenge is so great, there are still considerable opportunities ahead to reduce energy use and emissions, which will also control rising costs and other risks.

The 18 participating cities were Annapolis, MD; Arlington, VA; Atlanta, GA; Burlington, VT; Chicago, IL; Denver, CO; Edina, MN; Fairfield, IA; Haverford, PA; Las Vegas, NV; New Orleans, LA; New York, NY; North Little Rock, AR; Park City, UT; Portland, OR; Rohnert Park, CA; Washougal, WA; and West Palm Beach, FL.

Most of the municipalities participating in the project are first taking stock of their own emissions from their government operations, before implementing broader policies and programs to reduce emissions citywide. This practice enables cities to lead by example before asking businesses and residents to also reduce emissions. However, many of the responding cities are also beginning to measure the impact of the wider community on the climate where there is the potential for massive emissions mitigation. For example, Denver’s government operations emissions represent 210,000 metric tones of CO2 per year, whereas the emissions from the entire City of Denver exceed 13 million metric tones annually.

CDP’s Chief Executive Paul Dickinson said: “We applaud the cities who took part in this project for the steps they are taking towards tackling climate change. Cities around the world have the potential to drive significant emissions reductions globally. The cities participating in this project embarked on an important task to improve their understanding of the risks and opportunities they face from climate change in order to take action and prepare themselves for a carbon-constrained world. These are important steps that need to be taken as a matter or urgency by other cities and organizations around the world.”

The report finds that local governments are moving quickly to adapt to the new emissions reporting standard at the local government level, the Local Government Operations Protocol, which was released in September 2008 and was developed by ICLEI, The Climate Registry, the California Climate Action Registry, and the California Air Resources Board.

“As this report underscores, cities have shown tremendous leadership in identifying and implementing emissions reduction strategies and recognizing the risks of inaction and values of action. They have laid the groundwork for action in their communities, across the country and around the world,” said Michelle Wyman, Executive Director of ICLEI USA. “ICLEI’s local government members follow methodologies and standards and take part in ongoing reporting that fosters the kind of transparency and rigor required of any entity addressing climate change.”

In terms of adaptation, the report says all 18 US cities identify risks associated with climate change and that the participants are in the early stages of planning for the long-term impacts of climate change. Some of the responses are more developed than others. For example, the City of Chicago has developed a comprehensive risk management plan including 39 adaptation tactics such as implementing a needs assessment to evaluate drainage infrastructure and developing city-wide climate change design criteria

The report says 14 cities see general opportunities arising from climate change, including energy efficiency and a strengthening of communities. New York anticipates that “efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from government operations will save the city hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs in the coming decade”, whilst Washougal, WA states that “a proactive approach to adaptation and mitigation will reward business and residential consumers with lower energy bills, a cleaner environment and a regional, localized economy that will offer additional jobs to many of its residents”.

The report found that all participating cities have embarked on plans or actions to manage the risks associated with climate change, including both mitigation and adaptation. The range of individual actions which are being taken by cities will add up to significant emissions reductions in the short and medium term. However, given the most recent estimates by scientists that emissions need to be reduced by 80% by 2050, the report finds these early steps to be promising, but that continued aggressive action is necessary over the next 40 years to meet the scale of the challenge.

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