Cities Hold Solutions To Climate Change

Cities, Citizens Tackling Issues and Opportunities

Cities around the world have multiplied their efforts to emit fewer greenhouse gases and brace for climate-change-driven natural disasters, scientists and environmentalists say.

Amid uncertainty over whether Washington will withdraw from a global accord to combat climate change, many people are increasingly pinning their hopes on cities to cut global warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Last month U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said he was keeping an open mind on whether to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. He has appointed two climate skeptics to top jobs in his administration.

greener cities conference

Below are five U.S. cities that left their mark on the fight against climate change in 2016:

Portland, Oregon

Portland made national headlines by pushing the frontiers of how municipal governments can speed up the transition from fossil fuel to clean energy. This month, the West Coast city of nearly 600,000 people said it was the first nationwide to ban the construction of new bulk fossil-fuel storage facilities on its territory.

“Now, more than ever, local community voices are needed, because the risks of not acting on climate change are just too severe,” Portland Mayor Charlie Hales said after adopting the new rules, which prohibit the construction of fossil-fuel storage facilities exceeding 2 million gallons.

Burlington, Vermont

This year, Vermont’s largest urban center put together a plan to pursue its goal of becoming a “net-zero city,” meaning it aims to consume only as much energy as it generates.

“We are doing things that other bigger cities sometimes really even aren’t thinking about yet,” said Neale Lunderville, general manager of the Burlington Electric Department, a part of the municipal government, in a telephone interview.

In 2014, Burlington, a former manufacturing town of 42,000 people, became the first U.S. city to run 100 percent on renewable energy, including wind and solar power, the Electric Department said.

San Diego, California

With a population of nearly 1.4 million people, San Diego was the largest U.S. city in 2016 to have committed to producing all its energy from renewable sources. The city, located in the drier southern part of California, has had to introduce water cuts to combat prolonged drought in the state, which has been aggravated by climate change.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer has committed $130 million of a $3.4 billion budget for 2017 to funding various projects to tackle climate change, such as installing solar panels, adding bike lanes and using energy-efficient street lights.

Cleveland, Ohio

In 2016, Cleveland, on the shores of Lake Erie, made progress on what could be the country’s first freshwater offshore wind turbine installation. As part of Project Icebreaker, six turbines are to be installed eight to 10 miles off Cleveland’s shore, with the aim of meeting 10 percent of the electricity needs of 6,000 homes.

The $120 million project, the brainchild of the Cleveland Foundation, a community group, received a boost in May when the U.S. Department of Energy announced it would award $40 million to help cover the construction of the wind turbines by 2018.

Baltimore, Maryland

In a first nationally, Baltimore announced in 2016 it would beef up its disaster-preparedness plans with neighborhood centers to help the most vulnerable residents, according to Kristin Baja, climate and resilience planner for the city administration.

The centers will be fully equipped with backup electricity and fresh water, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The seaside city of more than half a million people is particularly susceptible to flooding, hurricanes and storms.

“It’s an interesting model,” Garrett Fitzgerald, an adviser for the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, a coalition of U.S. and Canadian cities, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “People need a place to go that they can walk to, that they know, that they trust, where they feel safe.”

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UN Climate Report Charts Ways To Fight Global Warming

Cities Must Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Become more Resilient To Weather Global Warming

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) mitigation report, released Sunday in Berlin, explores some 1,200 scenarios to avert the worsening effects of global warming by 2100. The proposals  range from planting more trees to relying much more on nuclear power.

climate change solutions
Cities must share sustainability resources for maximum impact. Urban forestry and global reforestation can play a pivotal role in a sustainable future for our children.

“This report is a wake-up call about global economic opportunity we can seize today as we lead on climate change,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a statement. “This report makes very clear that we face an issue of global willpower, not capacity.”

Sunday’s report is the third in a series of UN reports on climate change released in the past year that paint a picture of “virtually certain” climate change, driven by increasing emissions—80 percent of them from the burning of fossil fuels—which is already melting the Arctic, acidifying oceans and harming crops. (See also: “New Climate Change Report Warns of Dire Consequences.”)

The report urges global action before 2020. The alternative, it says, is paying more later when temperatures rise to dangerous levels, and running more severe risks of climate change, which include rising seas, acidified oceans, longer heat waves, and severe crop failures.

“The longer we wait, the more costly things will be,” said Stanford University economist Charles Kolstad, a lead author of the IPCC report. “It is possible to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, that’s clear. But it will be a challenge.”

Overall, global greenhouse gas emissions—largely caused by burning coal, oil and natural gas—need to be cut 40 to 70 percent by mid-century, the report says, for humanity to face better than 50-50 odds of dodging the worst effects of global warming. (Related: “Clean Coal Test: Power Plants Prepare to Capture Carbon.”)

To hit those emission reduction goals, the report calls for a tripling or quadrupling of “low carbon” power sources such as nuclear, solar, or renewable energy around the world.

Many of the report’s proposals involve “overshooting” emissions targets in early decades and turning to technologies that effectively remove carbon dioxide, the most significant greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere in later decades to have any realistic chances of working.

“One of the most important contributions of the report is simply in laying out a road map,” said Kelly Levin of the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., a longtime IPCC report observer. “There are a ton of solutions.”

Global Road Map

Since everyone shares the air and because everyone can pollute it, the report says that emissions policies need to involve the entire international community to be effective. But efforts in global cooperation on climate change, like the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, have produced mixed results at best

“None of that is going to happen on its own,” said Harvard University’sRobert Stavins, another IPCC report lead author, “so public policy is required at the international level.”

A 1992 United Nations agreement broadly obligated the world to keep global warming temperature increases below “dangerous” levels, usually seen as 3.6°F (2°C), the point at which costly climate effects kick in.

The toll would be felt largely by poor farmers who live in dry and monsoon-dependent regions around the world that look to be hardest hit by warmer temperatures, and who have the fewest resources to deal with crop losses.

“The report makes clear a transition to clean energy and different behavior in how we use energy is needed to stay below that 2-degree [Celsius] increase,” said Levin.

Climate Containment

Without new power technologies spreading worldwide, avoiding the 3.6°F increase in temperatures over pre-industrial levels looks “very challenging,” said report author Leon Clarke of the the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Joint Global Change Research Institute.

Two technologies in particular look promising. One is growing forests expressly to pull carbon out of the air, an idea known as afforestation.

The other idea is to generate electricity from burning renewable energy sources, such as sawgrass or genetically engineered algal fuels, and stuffing their greenhouse gas emissions underground, a technique known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage.

Both technologies exist, but scaling them up for worldwide use looks daunting, Clarke said.

Even if the world aims for less ambitious emissions cuts and allows more global warming, Clarke added, people will have to turn to such technologies. Otherwise, temperatures will keep rising.

In any case, the world will have to shoot for zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2100, the report’s analysis suggests.

The report also points to energy efficiency and changes in how cities are built and managed as ways to limit emissions. For instance, roofs could be painted to absorb less heat, and more mass transit systems could reduce the need for emissions-spewing vehicles.

International Cooperation

Sponsored by the World Meteorological Organization and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the report comes amid a long-lasting slowdown in economic growth after 2008’s recession that has raised questions about how the world might come together to tackle climate change.

In coming decades, China will overtake the United States, the biggest emitter historically, in total greenhouse gas emissions, said Harvard’sStavins.

That might create an opening for international agreements to go forward on limiting climate change, he suggested, as developing nations see they are bearing more responsibility for global warming.

Otherwise, Stavins sees small agreements on regional levels, among different cities, states, or provinces pursuing steps to cut emissions as the “de facto” world response to climate change. “There really is a lot of skepticism about a big world agreement,” he said.

MIT economist John Reilly, who was not an author of the climate report, agreed: “It is too easy to wait and let someone else hurt their economy by going first.”

The report is aimed largely at world leaders attending next year’s international climate summit in Paris, which is expected to pick up the problems left unresolved at the last such global summit, in 2008 in Denmark, in particular, making climate mitigation plans for after 2030.

Written by more than 400 experts and reviewers from 57 nations over the past four years, the IPCC reports are essentially vast reviews of the latest climate research.

The last round of such reports, released in 2007, won a Nobel Peace Prize, which was shared by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.