Long before Congress started to take the threat of climate change
seriously, American mayors were already recognizing the need to
decrease fossil-fuel consumption, promote efficiency, and generally
create more livable places.
Scott Smith, the mayor of Mesa, Arizona, recently became the 1,000th city chief to sign on to the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement [PDF],
first ratified in 2005 as a way for localities to commit to meet the
Kyoto emissions reduction targets that the Bush administration declined to endorse.
Smith’s move prompted a report in this weekend’s New York Times, which hailed city-level sustainability efforts such as those showcased on Capitol Hill back in July. While the nation has long been more urban than rural — in fact, an estimated two-thirds of Americans now live in
the nation’s 100 biggest cities — the Times cast some doubt on prior
portrayals of cities as proportionally significant energy consumers:
“Cities occupy two percent of the world’s land mass yet
contribute more than two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions,”
begins the Clinton Initiative’s online explication of its C-40 program,
which unites large cities across the globe in a commitment to reducing
greenhouse gases. …
But other researchers — including David Satterthwaite, a senior fellow
at the International Institute for Environment and Development in
London — have challenged those numbers, claiming that they are at best
exaggerated and in reality unknowable.
Writing in the March
2009 issue of the United Nations Human Settlements Program’s flagship
magazine, Urban World, Mr. Satterthwaite and his colleague David
Dodman, drawing on the most recent figures of the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change, estimate that cities contribute somewhere
between 30 and 41 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
What was mentioned but not discussed by the Times is the Conference of Mayors’ report [PDF]
on 16 cities that have adopted innovative strategies to cut pollution.
The entire report is worth a read (though New Yorkers, San Franciscans
and Portland-ites may be disappointed to find their hometowns not
listed), not least because most mayors single out land use and
transportation planning as central elements of their policy-making on
environment and energy.