Beyond National Climate Change Goals: Where Cities Fit In

Following the U.S. – China Climate Leaders Summit, I had the fortunate experience of delivering remarks about our MC-4 network and “climate action by climate region” to a room of mayors from cities in California and China. My talk was part of an ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability event in support of the summit, which was hosted by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City of Los Angeles.

The U.S. – China Climate Leaders Summit brought together mayors as well as state and national leaders from both countries to commit to expediting achievement of their carbon dioxide emissions reduction targets. Witnessing local leaders from the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases move beyond their respective national agendas was extraordinary and made a powerful statement: local leaders can be pioneers of climate action and can further or exceed national and state-level climate change goals.

On top of signing their emissions reduction commitments, the many mayors in attendance shared the work that their cities had accomplished towards adapting to climate change. These mayors were clearly proud of their cities and highlighted on-the-ground urban planning strategies. Examples of these interventions included greening transportation systems and promoting energy-efficient buildings.

Here are some of the common themes regarding urban planning strategy implementation that emerged from their remarks:

• Rebalancing urban infrastructure to put people first
• Data-driven actions with measurable results
• Interactive planning processes
• Market-based instruments
• Changing behavior
• Investing on the front end
• Modeling future scenarios
• Financing vs. funding

All of the mayors emphasized that, beyond reducing total greenhouse gas emissions on a national scale, they cared deeply about how adapting to climate change would increase the quality of life for their constituents. In other words, they wanted to make sure that their cities were healthy, adaptive and efficient moving forward – These are the same goals that we have for implementing climate change strategies in our own MC-4 network. As Janette Sadik-Kahn, former Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation and a featured speaker at the event, explained: “Fixing our climate starts with reimagining the ground under your feet. By changing the street, you are changing the world.”

As the summit concluded, I had several questions about how these grand plans for adaptation would unfold moving forward:

• How do we measure success?
• How do we incorporate social vulnerability in our work?
• How do we institutionalize our efforts?
• How do we move past pilot projects?
• How do we leverage scarce funding resources and time?
• How do we keep initiatives running past mayoral terms?
• How do we work together and forge partnerships?

These are some of the knowledge gaps that an agile network like MC-4 can help fill. Ideally, we can leverage our relationships with each other to create innovative urban management solutions that are implementable throughout the five Mediterranean-climate regions.

Now, as we move towards another global meeting of nations on climate change issues, COP 21 in Paris, let’s consider:

1) What can we do to further our national and state climate mitigation and adaptation goals?

2) What can we do to create our own innovative agendas for mitigation and adaptation?

3) How can we share our work in these arenas effectively throughout our communities?

About the Author:  Laurel Hunt is the Secretary of the Mediterranean City Climate Change Consortium (MC-4), an international network focused on the five Mediterranean-climate regions.  She also serves the Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Center for Urban Resilience at Loyola Marymount University.  In her third role, she is Managing Editor of Cities and the Environment (CATE) Journal, a peer-reviewed online publication dedicated to urban ecology research and practice that is supported by an LMU – U.S. Forest Service partnership. Laurel is an elected representative of the Los Angeles Regional Collaborative for Climate Action and Sustainability (LARC) to the state-level Alliance of Regional Collaboratives for Climate Adaptation (ARCCA) and Chair of the Process Working Group for the Los Angeles Resilience Initiative, a project of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Los Angeles Chapter.  Her graduate degree is in Urban and Regional Planning and the emphasis of her graduate studies was on climate change adaptation, regional environmental sustainability and community-based participatory planning.