Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Seattle's LGBT Center Is Going... | But Where Will Ecce Homo Stay... »

Friday, January 11, 2008

Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement: Cities (Still) Falling Behind

posted by on January 11 at 12:58 PM

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.

RSS icon Comments

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.

OK ... how to remind them, then? Do we need some agency to release a report card, so as to publicly shame or pressure the undeperforming cities into cleaning up their act?

Posted by tsm | January 11, 2008 1:01 PM

Like all the other cities, Seattle made the commitment based on little awareness of how difficult it would be. In the past couple years the City has busted ass to figure out what is necessary (giant props to the Green Ribbon Commission), and is now starting to make the difficult changes. In two years the City went from defending the tunnel as the environmental solution to advocating for congestion pricing, making transit / walking / biking more convenient than driving, saying we have to reduce VMT, and figuring out how to measure emissions effects of transportation investments. That's a big change.

So acknowledgment / commitment comes first, figuring out how comes second, holy shit comes third, and making it so comes eventually. We are punching way above our weight on this issue -- many of the other signer cities are looking for solutions and counting on Seattle to show the way. We're going to have to export both the policy and technical solutions as we find them (via the US Conference of Mayors, Western Climate Initiative, etc), but also the local activism and critical media attention that provides the pressure and political cover to follow thru on the hard choices.

Posted by Cary | January 11, 2008 2:03 PM

You know, the reality is many countries are having the same problems.

Doesn't mean they're not trying to progress, just that it can be difficult.

If the EPA would just get out of the way and let we sane states, with our 60 percent of the US economy, regulate green house gas emissions for vehicles, we would have a lot easier time of it, due to market incentives and the invisible hand of capitalism being on our side.


Posted by Will in Seattle | January 11, 2008 3:07 PM

Give me a freaking break. Mayor Jowly talks a good game, but he can't implement his way out of a paper bag. Example: mega cruise liners get to plug into into the grid so they don't belch diesel fumes into the air, but cyclists don't even have night lights on Seattle's bike trails. I urge others to post your own examples. Seattle's population is increasing, the number of cars is increasing, congestion is increasing, the air smells like a petrochemical factory. When it comes right down to it, I can't think of a single damn thing that's green about Seattle, except maybe Mayor Fatty's hot air.

Posted by Mud Baby | January 11, 2008 3:20 PM

A petro factory? Um, no.

Let's not hype things ok?

Posted by Will in Seattle | January 11, 2008 4:24 PM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).