At U.S. Conference of Mayors, cities give 100% for climate

More than 250 mayors from cities across the nation are assembling in Miami this weekend to discuss the biggest issues facing their communities—and climate change is one of the top priorities on the list. It’s the latest display of commitment to climate action from local leaders, who are increasingly stepping up their efforts even as the federal government continues to turn its back on the fight against global warming.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors’ annual meeting, which will take place from Friday to Monday, tackles a variety of issues, from poverty and gun violence to education and transportation. When it comes to the environment, there will be discussions on national climate projections, electric vehicles and low-carbon transportation, renewable energy, energy-efficient buildings, and other strategies for reducing carbon emissions and tackling climate change.

Members of the conference will also vote on a number of climate and energy-related resolutions, including one that would support cities establishing a target of powering themselves with 100% renewable energy by the year 2035.

We firmly believe that a vision of 100% clean and renewable energy is a vision that all Americans should embrace.

These discussions are particularly relevant among local governments now that President Trump has vowed to withdraw U.S. involvement in the Paris climate agreement. In the wake of the announcement, numerous state and local leaders have vocally renewed their commitment to their own forms of climate action, with or without the support of the federal government.

“We see the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord as an abdication of American leadership and America’s mayors will certainly fill that void,” said Greg Stanton, mayor of Phoenix, Arizona, and chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Environment Committee, in a statement following Trump’s withdrawal announcement. “We will symbolically sign on and take actions necessary so that America meets its obligations under the Paris Accord, despite actions of this Administration.”

Many cities already had their own climate and sustainability goals long before Trump took office. In fact, according to Los Angeles Chief Sustainability Officer Matt Petersen, state and local governments “have long been the engine of progress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the states.”

But after Trump announced his intent to withdraw from Paris, many leaders went on to reaffirm and even strengthen their commitment to the cause. As of this month, a coalition of more than 300 mayors across the nation—a group known as Climate Mayors—have committed to adopting and upholding the goals pledged by the U.S. under the Paris Agreement, despite the federal government’s failure to act on them.

And they’re tackling the issue in a variety of ways. Los Angeles, for instance—whose mayor, Eric Garcetti, was one of the founding members of Climate Mayors—has become a leading supporter of electric vehicles, according to Matt Petersen, the city’s chief sustainability officer. Just this month, Garcetti launched the BlueLA electric car sharing program, which will provide disadvantaged communities with self-service access to electric vehicles. This time last year, the Los Angeles Police Department was adding 100 electric cars to its fleet and has reportedly pledged to purchase 300 hybrid and electric plug-in vehicles by the year 2020.

Meanwhile, across the country, New York City has been focusing on strategies like investing in building energy efficiency, improving transportation, and planting trees. Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order committing the city to the goals of the Paris agreement immediately after Trump announced his intent to withdraw.

While New York and California have long been progressive national leaders on climate policy—the two states together have adopted the most ambitious state-level climate goals in the nation —many cities in conservative states across the country are also stepping up to the plate. Columbia, South Carolina, just became the 36th city in the nation to adopt a goal of powering itself with 100% renewable energy by the year 2036. Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin has also introduced a resolution to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which will be voted on this weekend, calling for support for cities that adopt this goal.

“We believe that growth and prosperity are at the heart of the American dream, and that cities have long been leaders in driving innovations that improve the American way of life,” Benjamin told Fusion. “And we firmly believe that a vision of 100% clean and renewable energy is a vision that all Americans should embrace.”

It’s given people a sense of urgency about the need for individual action that leads to collective action.

This proposal, and others like it, will be some of the headlining conversations that take place at this weekend’s meeting. And according to Benjamin, these discussions should send a strong message that, despite the federal government’s inaction, leaders at other levels are still committed to U.S. climate action.

“I do believe that since the president has made the decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord, it really has helped a whole lot of folks across the political spectrum—left of center and right of center—it’s given people a sense of urgency about the need for individual action that leads to collective action,” Benjamin said. “I think this is going to be just a clear voice to our country and to the world that the United States of America is firmly committed to preserving a prosperous future for ourselves and the rest of the world.”