Enviro Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement: Cities (Still) Falling Behind
posted by January 11 at 12:58 PMon
As I’ve written, I think it’s great, in theory, that more than 700 cities have signed on to the Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, spearheaded by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. Under the agreement, cities pledge to reduce their total greenhouse-gas emissions to eight percent below 1990 levels by 2012. (The agreement came in the wake of the Bush Administration’s refusal to do anything about climate, including ratify the Kyoto Treaty; the idea is that local governments should take matters into their own hands.) As I’ve also written (and as Mayor Nickels, to his credit, has acknowledged), that reduction level is totally inadequate: scientists now predict that if we want to prevent catastrophic climate change, we need to get greenhouse-gas emissions down 80 percent below current levels by 2050—and that’s the optimistic prediction.
But a bigger question than where we set the climate goalposts is whether local efforts are working in the first place. The agreement is non-binding on cities, so even if a city signs, there’s nothing to guarantee that it will follow through with policy changes that work toward the goals. According to several accounts that have come out over the past year, many cities are not meeting the goals they agreed to; some mayors, in fact, appear not to even remember signing the agreement. According to a story in the San Diego Voice:
Vista [California] Mayor Morris Vance said he vaguely remembered signing it. He said he asked city staff to “come back with some recommendations,” though that hasn’t happened.
“I remember at the time I thought it was a good idea,” Vance said.
In Imperial Beach, Mayor Jim Janney said his city hadn’t followed up with any specific action, either. “It’s not like we’ve ignored it completely,” he said, “but we haven’t pushed real hard.” […]
Some cities have already begun taking steps to address climate change. La Mesa added three hybrid cars to its fleet. Solana Beach replaced a gas guzzling pickup with an electric car. San Diego mandated recycling.
While officials in those cities laud their progress, many also admit they aren’t likely to meet the 2012 emissions reduction goals they agreed to. Mary Sessom, Lemon Grove’s mayor, said that’s why she has refused to sign on to the mayors’ accord.
“It doesn’t do anything,” she said. “Signing a piece of paper doesn’t mean we intend to do anything about climate change. Signing a piece of paper gives you political cover.”
In green San Francisco, meanwhile,
“We are not on track,” said Shirley Hansen, a [County of San Francisco] Civil Grand Jury member. “In order to meet this goal, we will have to triple our efforts now for the next five years.”
One reason the city hasn’t accomplished its goals is because the San Francisco Municipal Railway is under-funded, Hansen said.
Green New York isn’t meeting the goals either. Nor are many much smaller cities, many of which have tiny budgets and no extra money to hire sustainability consultants or do much more than add a hybrid or two to their municipal fleet.
And that’s a problem. Cities will have to play a role in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions—even if the federal government does step up and mandate better fuel efficiency, increases in funding for public transit, targets for renewable energy use, and a cap-and-trade system for pollution. Cities can mandate building standards, determine where development will be allowed, tax or toll auto usage to encourage transit ridership, and a long list of other things the federal government simply cannot do. It isn’t enough for city governments to reduce their own emissions; they have to do more to encourage (or, better, require) citizens to change their own habits, too. Mandates from state government may be part of the answer (see Josh’s upcoming post on some smart, green bills coming up in this year’s legislative session), but local governments have a lot to answer for. If they aren’t working toward the goals they pledged to aim for, no one will.