World leaders came together this month and reached an historic agreement to combat climate change. At the international talks in Paris, the United States, China, India and more than 180 other countries committed to reducing their carbon pollution and protecting future generations from extreme drought, storms, floods and heat waves. Though more work needs to be done, this bold agreement represents the biggest step the world has ever taken to defuse the climate threat.
Now, as heads of state return home to honor their commitments, they can count on cities like ours to help lead the way.
Mayors around the world have embraced these solutions because they help us do our job. People want mayors to keep cities safe, strengthen our economies and provide opportunities for the next generation. Fighting climate change helps achieve all these goals.
That’s why so many mayors attended the Paris climate talks and called on world leaders to craft a strong climate agreement. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Michael Bloomberg, the U.N. special envoy for cities and climate change, hosted the Climate Summit for Local Leaders on Dec. 4 with representatives of 400 cities from around the world in attendance. We know it's good for our communities and for our planet.
Cities must take action because we are often hit hardest by climate impacts. When potent storms pummel our streets, cities must ensure that hundreds of thousands of people are shielded from flood waters, power outages and fires. When intense heat waves descend on our neighborhoods, we must offer cooling stations and health care for children, the elderly and others vulnerable to heat-related illnesses.
At the same time, cities must recognize the role we play in contributing to climate change. Metropolitan areas account for two-thirds of the world’s overall energy use and are responsible for more than 70 percent of global greenhouse gases.
Yet cities also are centers of innovation and adaption. We can be nimble in seizing new opportunities — with fewer partisan debates that slow progress — and we attract cutting-edge industries. These qualities are putting many cities at the forefront of climate action.
Kansas City, Missouri, for instance, has joined the City Energy Project. Energy used to heat, cool and power buildings can account for up to 70 percent of a city’s carbon pollution. Yet most buildings waste up to 30 percent of that energy through inefficient operations, lighting and appliances.
The City Energy Project makes it easier for businesses and civic leaders to vastly increase efficiency. In the process, it will help 10 pilot cities save nearly $1 billion in energy costs and cut carbon pollution equivalent to emissions from up to 1.3 million cars annually by 2030. It also will create thousands of new jobs for architects, engineers, construction workers, software technicians and electricians.
Pittsburgh is also pioneering solutions. It is working with the Department of Energy on an historic agreement to replace the city’s 19th century grid system with highly efficient district energy production, and move from coal-burning power plants to micro-grids run on renewable energy. It has joined the 100 Resilient Cities Initiative to prepare for a changing climate.
In addition, it is adopting neighborhood and environmentally friendly storm-water management programs and requirements for usage of clean diesel equipment, and is preserving its green hillsides, which make up one of the largest natural urban tapestries in the country.
Last week, the Uptown EcoInnovation District was named by Sustainia, a sustainable development firm based in Copenhagen, Denmark, as one of the top 100 projects worldwide that is addressing climate change on a local level. The Uptown EcoInnovation project is a leading model of civic engagement, mobility improvements, water management and energy innovation.
These climate measures have the added benefit of making cities more vibrant places to live. They help clean the air, create jobs, lower energy costs and create opportunities. They draw young people, families, businesses and investment. That’s why cities from Los Angeles to Houston to Orlando have implemented climate-action plans.
But cities can’t do it alone. We need international resolve and national leadership to fully address the climate crisis. Here in the U.S., it is important that cities be involved in implementing climate measures to make sure that benefits are shared by low-income communities, while enabling America to meet the commitments made in Paris. Together, we can make all communities healthier, more livable places for generations to come.
James has been mayor of Kansas City since 2011. Peduto has been mayor of Pittsburgh since 2014.