The Green New Deal? It's Already Happening in Our Communities.

Cities large and small are stepping up their efforts to combat climate change and cope with its impact. There's much that they can do.
March 11, 2019 AT 6:15 AM
Wind turbines near homes
Rock Port, Mo., has already achieved its 100 percent renewable energy goal. (AP/Charlie Riedel)
By Steven Pedigo  |  Contributor
A professor of practice at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin
By Abigail Sindzinski  |  Contributor
A writer and editor for the NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate Urban Lab

Many critics have portrayed the Green New Deal, with all its hope for our climate policy, as radical. To be sure, the proposal by congressional progressives to meet all energy demand from zero-emissions sources in 10 years is highly ambitious. But for cities -- places where the effects of climate change are especially pronounced and a growing share of the population lives -- the radical way forward is inaction. Cities need to be formulating their own plans to combat climate change and to blunt its impact through resilience planning.

With the current political climate, local governments can be effective and nimble at getting more done. Cities are major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions (responsible for 70 percent of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, according to the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group). Many local governments are already stepping up, implementing climate strategies and benchmarks that reflect the goals of the Green New Deal. And in some cases, local governments' efforts are being bolstered or led by those of forward-looking state policymakers.

California and its cities are on the clean-energy forefront: Through its CleanPowerSF program, San Francisco is offering its residents and businesses the option to receive 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, and automatically moving to at least 40 percent renewables across the board. San Jose plans to automatically enroll most of its residents and businesses in a program providing electricity that is 45 percent renewable and 80 percent carbon-free, while offering an extra-cost option for 100 percent renewable energy. The economic benefits of the advanced energy economy in California have been tangible, with more than half a million jobs in the clean energy sector as of April 2017.

These efforts extend beyond progressive hubs. Cities and mayors that have committed to the 100 percent renewable goal include Atlanta, Evanston, Ill., Fayetteville, Ark., and St. Petersburg, Fla. Among places that have already achieved that goal through wind and solar energy are Georgetown, Texas, Greensburg, Kan., and Rock Port, Mo.

At the state level, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Vermont are among those that have committed to using at least 50 percent renewables by 2030. New Jersey's goals are on a par with California's: Through an executive order signed last year by Gov. Phil Murphy, the state will aim to reach 100 percent clean energy by 2050. The state is poised to bolster and revamp its solar-energy and offshore-wind credits systems, and the governor also signed into law a nuclear-subsidy bill that supports the continued use of that energy source.

Though renewable and clean energy are crucial aspects of efforts to reduce global warming, there are other important components to combating the effects of climate change. In response to already increasing extreme weather, a number of cities are proactively addressing development through resilience planning. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, for example, Houston has been rethinking development: The city is updating rules for building in flood-prone areas and planning new resilience-focused infrastructure, such as a reservoir and coastal storm barrier. Houston is a part of the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities program, created to implement a strategy around climate, social and economic issues.

Minnesota and its cities are also at the forefront, particularly on two crucial areas: transportation and urban planning. The state's Department of Transportation has set a goal of boosting the number of electric vehicles on its roads from the current 6,000 to 200,000 by 2030, and the Twin Cities are building on public transit with new and expanding light rail. Meanwhile, the impressive Minneapolis 2040 Plan promotes substantive rezoning across the city to create denser development. New and existing buildings will be retrofitted or redesigned, and the city will emphasize an array of transportation alternatives including incentives for electric-vehicle charging stations.

As these efforts illustrate, there is much that cities and states can do -- and in many cases are already doing -- to combat climate change. Key areas for action include not only energy generation and consumption but also transportation, waste management and the built environment. Cities need to move to electric buses and support electric cars by providing EV charging stations. Waste standards, such as banning single-use plastic and requiring composting, are critical. Requiring LEED certification for buildings and providing green space will help cities stay cool while reducing their emissions. These efforts can and will make a difference, doing much to make sure that the climate goals of the Green New Deal can be met sooner rather than later.