Climate Solutions Every City Should Implement

In cities across the United States, cities and towns are taking action to decrease their greenhouse gas emissions, mitigate climate change impacts and address environmental justice concerns.

Cities have been leading the way in sustainability and climate innovation, and their climate action plans serve as a blueprint for tackling these issues at scale. NLC examined 50 recent city plans and identified five major themes and concepts that should be addressed in every climate action plan:

1. Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency, which reduces a building’s or industrial plant’s energy consumption and emissions, can be one of the most effective climate solutions for cities. It can also reduce energy costs, provide economic benefits, improve community resilience, and help address energy equity.

The EPA’s ENERGY STAR program provides guidelines on how to reduce energy use and save money with a wide range of products and services. Similarly, state and local energy codes and standards may require buildings to meet certain requirements or targets for performance that contribute to reductions in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Moreover, some governments and utilities include information about energy usage on electric bills, which creates social pressure to conserve energy. This can encourage consumers to switch to more efficient technologies and thereby reduce their energy use.

Energy efficiency can be an important part of a city’s climate strategy, especially for low-income households, as it can reduce monthly energy bills and help alleviate the burden on families struggling with energy insecurity. This can increase family resilience and make it easier for them to meet their basic needs, such as eating and clothing.

2. Electric Vehicles

EVs can reduce air pollution and improve public health, especially for people living near highways or in high-traffic areas. Studies show that EVs can save tens of thousands of premature deaths per year.

The EV transition will also save cities money. Electric vehicles cost less to fuel than gas-powered cars, and battery packs have an extended lifespan.

While EVs cost more up front, drivers can also take advantage of a federal tax credit and state incentives. These savings can offset the cost of the initial purchase price, and batteries are covered by 8-10 year warranties.

EVs can also be used to send power back to the grid via vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technologies, which could help communities during a blackout or other climate disaster. Moreover, EVs can be deployed by local governments as fleet vehicles that save money and put downward pressure on taxes.

3. Public Transit

Investing in and improving public transportation is an essential part of any climate solution. It reduces traffic congestion, idling, noise and air pollution while saving energy, money, time, and improving health.

Transit investments also help people go places while driving less or grouping trips together, promoting clustered development and encouraging walkability and biking. In the United States alone, a 20-mile round trip commute using public transportation saves 10 percent of a household’s climate pollution emissions.

Switching to a car that is more efficient, such as an electric vehicle, can cut emissions even more. But reducing emissions requires a significant shift away from personal automobiles, which can only happen by redesigning cities to have good mass transit options.

4. Renewable Energy

Renewable energy is derived from resources like the sun, wind and water that are naturally replenished. Non-renewable energy, on the other hand, comes from finite sources that could run out – like fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas.

Currently, renewables account for more than 12 percent of the nation’s electricity generation and are advancing at a rapid rate. They can help decarbonize the national grid and reduce America’s reliance on imported fossil fuels, which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

There are many similarities among renewable energy resources, including solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, bioenergy (organic matter burned as a fuel) and marine energy. However, there are also differences between them. Some renewables require specific treatment. This depends on political goals and objectives as well as the resource’s technical characteristics.

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