By Alex Helling, STAR Communities Technical Specialist
STAR Communities released the STAR Climate Change Guide on June 20th, 2017 to support US cities and counties engaged in climate action. The Guide draws upon strategies and best practices in the STAR Community Rating System and the experiences of over 60 STAR-certified communities. Local leaders are invited to use the free Climate Change Guide to support new climate action planning, expand existing efforts, implement climate pledges, and advocate for new efforts. STAR is hosting a webinar on Thursday, July 20th, at 2 pm ET to discuss the newly released Climate Change Guide and recent efforts to move climate action forward. You can register for the webinar online.
Hundreds of mayors responded to President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord in a joint statement from the U.S. Climate Mayors. Vowing to “… build and strengthen relationships around the world to protect the planet from devastating climate risks”, over 350 U.S. mayors committed to adopt, honor, and uphold the Paris Agreement goals.
It is hopeful to see the list of over 350 United States cities that have signed on to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement goals, as over 70% of global emissions stem from the planet’s cities. At the same time, the urgency of action indicates we must build upon this momentum and ask: How do we know if we on track to meet these goals? How can we meet these commitments?
Are we on track to meet the Paris Climate Accord’s goals?
To answer the first question, it’s helpful to establish a bit of context; specifically, the emissions reductions necessary to be on track.
The US’s commitment to the Paris Climate Accord included a 25% reduction from 2005 GHG emissions by 2025 (with a stretch goal of a 28% reduction by 2025). Based on the most recent EPA estimates for 2015, this means that emissions will need to decrease a total 3.4 metric tons per capita by 2025 (or 4.1 metrics tons for the stretch goal), or .34 (.41 stretch) metric tons each year for the next 10 years.
To know if a community is on track to support these targets will require a communitywide GHG inventory measured at consistent intervals with reliable and transparent reporting.
Reporting emissions in a public-facing dashboard promotes accountability and enables citizens to see if their community is on track to uphold the Paris Climate Agreements goals. The Leading STAR Community Indicators program offers a way for communities to report annual emissions and compare per capita emissions to other communities.
How can we meet these commitments?
Beyond tracking GHG emissions, communities must systematically understand their existing climate mitigation efforts and their potential opportunities. To meet the Paris Climate Accord’s goals, efforts will need to expand into each sector of the community and include innovations in:
- energy supply and demand;
- transportation and development;
- waste systems;
- land use patterns; and
- economic production and consumption.
Communities should be evaluating their efforts in each of the categories. Submissions through STAR Community Rating System, upon which the STAR Climate Change Guide was built, provide insight into the types of practices that communities are implementing that reduce emissions.
The most commonly implemented efforts focus on alternative transportation, local government efficiency, and land use planning including:
- Demonstrate that the comprehensive plan supports compact, mixed use development
- Adopt a bicycle and/or pedestrian master plan that prioritized future projects to improve safety and access to non-motorized transportation and connections to public transit
- Install public-use alternative fueling stations (such as electric)
- Make retrofits and upgrades to local government buildings and/or infrastructure systems that will increase energy and water efficiency
- Implement a local program that systematically improves bicycle and pedestrian amenities community-wide. For example, traffic calming measures, road diets, and equipping buses to carry bicycles
- Partner with adjacent jurisdictions, state and federal agencies, and local or regional non-profit organizations to advance land conservation and restoration efforts
As seen in these submitted actions, efforts to reduce emissions can take numerous forms. These necessary changes are however complex, numerous, and often challenging to implement. The partisan political climate in which policy is developed also presents unique challenges, as base facts and necessity of action are consistently challenged
To address these challenges and meet long-term goals, it will be necessary to build new partnerships and expand existing coalitions. These groups must now include stakeholders that did not see climate mitigation as their primary issue. Efforts to decrease GHG emissions should also look to improve conditions and outcomes relevant to a wide range of community members.
For example, suburban communities with sprawling footprints must address development patterns and transportation systems that rely almost solely upon single occupancy vehicles. Land use and development patterns over the past decades, coupled with increasing housing prices in denser cores, make planning decisions built around infill and redevelopment challenging. However, while infill development can improve energy and transportation efficiency and result in decreased emissions, it can also improve public health through the development of active transportation systems and decreased roadway emissions, improve resiliency through the diversification of transportation systems, and decrease transportation costs. As a community develops climate action initiatives, they must consider these types of secondary benefits and build partnerships around them.
Implementing the US Climate Mayor’s Pledge
The Mayor’s National Climate Action Agenda (MNCAA) includes cities that are “pursuing actions to achieve an emissions reduction target” by:
- Developing a community Greenhouse Gas (GHG) inventory
- Setting near- and long-term targets to reduce emissions
- Developing a Climate Action Plan aligned with the city’s targets.
STAR supports this pledge and recommends communities download the free STAR Climate Change Guide to assist them in developing their Climate Action Plan to achieve their near- and long-term targets for reducing emissions.
STAR is hosting a webinar on Thursday, July 20th, at 2 pm ET to discuss the newly released Climate Change Guide and recent efforts to move climate action forward. You can register for the webinar online.