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Cities and states must lead as window of opportunity shrinks for climate action

Cities and states must lead as window of opportunity shrinks for climate action
© FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

In his first weeks in office, President Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse panel approves bill to set up commission on reparations Democrats to offer bill to expand Supreme Court Former Israeli prime minister advises Iran to 'cool down' amid nuclear threats MORE has taken key steps to ensure our nation aggressively confronts the climate crisis. The United States has rejoined the Paris Agreement, created a whole-of-government approach to climate change and committed to making the clean energy transition — and the jobs that will come with a zero-carbon emissions future — a key part of rebuilding the economy. Each of these steps will make a welcome impact, but we must do more.  

It would be natural for policymakers and advocates to turn their attention away from cities and states to Washington, D.C., but while federal action is imperative, local action remains a critical piece of the national climate strategy. As the mayor of a major city who has committed to meaningful action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and as the president of a conservation organization that advocates for climate action and clean energy across the American West, we are urging leaders at every level of government and policy to work together to combat the climate crisis.

The Trump administration’s assault on our climate caused damage that will take decades to reverse. Science tells us that if we don’t set in motion major changes in these next three to five years, we will be on a path that creates deep inequity across the nation and the world while threatening the rivers, lands and communities that we love. 

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Some of the most important decisions in climate policy, like transitioning from coal to clean energy, are made at the local and state level. In fact, over the past four years, the most meaningful movement on climate in the United States has come from cities and states. In Phoenix, the city is working with local scientists to create a first of its kind “heat ready” certification to evaluate our community’s preparedness for extreme temperatures. The city’s heat mitigation strategies include the largest “cool pavement” project in the country, realizing surface temperature reductions of 10 to 15 degrees for neighborhoods. Phoenix also leads the nation with the most solar installed on municipal property and is working to ensure renewable energy is accessible for all, including residents in public housing.

These local efforts are important. Washington can and must engage and encourage continued and expanded local- and state-level action on policies that will dramatically reduce emissions and investment in clean electricity, energy-efficient buildings, and a vast expansion of electric vehicles. 

The summer and fall of 2020 more clearly than ever demonstrated across the West that we are on a dangerous path forward, fueled by the climate crisis. Phoenix experienced record heat with the most 100-degree days ever observed in a calendar year. In Denver, a combination of smoke from drought-fueled wildfires and dangerous ozone levels from high temperatures caused public health officials to warn people to create filtered safe rooms in their homes. 

Similar orders were issued across the region. Researchers in California say the combination of wildfire smoke and tailpipe pollution may be causing lifelong damage to children’s health, especially those in disadvantaged communities.

While these conditions affect all of us, the worst impacts of climate change are experienced by low-income communities who don’t have the resources or the ability to pick up and move to higher ground or protect themselves from air pollution or high temperatures.

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It is time to triple-down on climate action. We simply can’t afford to sit back and wait for Congress to lead. Governors, mayors, local leaders, climate activists and advocates must remember that they hold the keys to a healthier, safer and more righteous future, and that the time to act is now. 

Kate Gallego is mayor of Phoenix, the fifth-largest city in the United States and is currently the fastest growing city in the country.​

Jon Goldin-Dubois is president of Western Resource Advocates, which works to protects the West's land, air, and water.