State-Local Government Perspective

Abby Young
Cities for Climate Protection-U.S. International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives

I don't think that my personal background is nearly as exciting as what I am going to talk about, so I won't get into detail about that.

I am going to discuss very briefly the background of my organization. I will then talk about the relationship between local governments and climate change, and the role of local governments in the international forum on this issue. I will try to do this very quickly.

I have a couple of slides, which I think we can start now. The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, which I will for the rest of the speech affectionately refer to as ICLEI, is an international association of local governments. The most important thing is on the bottom of this slide: the purpose of ICLEI is to advocate for local governments before national and international governments, agencies and organizations. We try to provide a collective voice for municipalities on local environmental issues.

ICLEI was founded in 1990 at the United Nations. A major environmental initiative that ICLEI sponsors is the Cities for Climate Protection campaign. This campaign was launched in 1993 in New York at a local government leaders summit on climate change. The cities in the campaign set their own emissions reduction targets, and then developed local action plans to meet those targets. The purpose of the campaign is to assist cities in that process. I am the U.S. coordinator for that campaign.

Now, to talk about global warming and how it relates to cities, you have to talk about the impact of global warming on cities, and also the impact of cities on global warming. First of all, this slide clearly shows the impact of global warming on cities. The negative effects of climate change will be hardest felt by cities.

As we have all heard and as we all know, scientists have indicated that the first effects of climate change which we are now feeling are extreme weather patterns. And cities, because they are the population centers of the country, will feel these impacts economically and socially as well as ecologically. Many cities have already felt these impacts firsthand.

Climate models predict up to 12 percent increases in precipitation, resulting in increased flooding. Two years ago, the Midwest floods ended up causing about $12 billion worth of damages and property losses. Now, while FEMA, the Federal Emergency Assistance Program, provided some immediate financial relief, much of the damage is long term. The region is still suffering from the loss of many structures and businesses. There is no way that state and federal assistance can totally cover the levels of loss that are going to be experienced by cities, and city governments know this.

Coastal areas will be particularly hard hit by an increase in tropical storms and a rise in sea level. One of our member cities did an interesting thing. They projected on a map of their coastal areas what it would look like 50 years from now if global warming were to continue unchecked, and huge amounts of coastal property, prime residential areas as well as revenue rich commercial properties were submerged. Sea level rise will deal an economic blow to cities.

As you heard, one of the speakers yesterday touched on a variety of new health problems that are going to threaten cities. Urban areas suffer from elevated temperatures due to the darkness of paved streets and roofs. Already elevated temperatures due to global warming will be felt higher in city centers, and there will also be aggregations of respiratory ailments. These health problems will tax already overburdened municipal health care systems.

The impact of global warming on cities is clearly going to be significant.

Now, the impact of cities on global warming. Local governments have a special role and an undeniable responsibility to take initiatives to protect the climate. By the year 2000, it is estimated that one-half of the world's population will live in urban centers. Cities, because they are population centers, are major emitters of greenhouse gasses. Together, the emissions from the ten largest U.S. cities account for about 10 percent of the U.S.' total greenhouse gas emissions. This slide is not a list of the ten largest cities; these are cities that are in our program. But it gives you an idea of what their emission levels are.

Local governments influence and control many of the activities that produce these emissions. Because they exercise key powers over land use, transportation, building construction, waste management and in many cases, energy supply and management, local governments have the ability to greatly influence the energy intensity of their communities. For example, they set the building codes which determine the energy efficiency of structures and facilities. They also issue building and development permits, which determine land use patterns, which then influence whether their community among other things has a high or a low auto dependency. They may also operate the public transit system, which can influence the amount of time people spend in their cars. Because local governments are the public bodies closest to individual consumers, they exercise the greatest direct influence over energy consumption patterns.

I wanted to show you what a couple of our cities are doing to reduce CO2 emissions in their communities. We don't just work with cities; we also work with counties. Dade County is focusing on, among other things, building retrofits to increase energy efficiency and reduce electricity use as a way to reduce CO2 emissions. In contrast, the city of Portland's electricity is principally generated through hydropower. So rather than looking at reducing electricity use through building retrofits, they are focusing on transportation management as a way to reduce their CO2 emissions.

Preventing climate change is by and large not the chief reason that we have been able to involve U.S. cities in our climate protection campaign. Instead, they are drawn to the issue because of local economic and environmental needs. When we talk about policy in the face of uncertainty, the one thing that is very certain to local governments is that cities benefit from energy efficiency.

At a time when local governments especially now, are facing tighter budgets, the appeal of saving money through lower energy bills is often the starting point for municipal energy management initiatives. Additionally, investments in energy efficiency and new energy systems are among the most effective ways to create new employment and strengthen local economies.

The issue of timing came up earlier today and generated a lot of discussion. I think it is important to note that many cities are instituting low-cost and no-cost energy efficiency measures right now. So there are a lot of things that can be instituted to reduce CO2 immediately.

For example, Newark, New Jersey recently did an energy efficiency street light retrofit project. It is saving the city $1.3 million annually in avoided energy costs. These are the kinds of projects that cities are looking for, and why they buy into this kind of a program.

I just like this slide. The city of Seattle, to reduce their vehicle fleet, is putting some of its law enforcement officers on bicycles. It is a great idea.

When energy management reduces energy bills, the savings are re-spent, usually within the community. Investments in energy efficiency boost the local economy by creating economic opportunities for local vendors, manufacturers and installers of energy efficiency technology. In many cases, by contrast, money spent on energy bills goes to outside corporations and utilities, and is not reinvested in the community.

The city of Wooster, Ohio did a very interesting study, and found that 90 percent of the money it was spending on energy was leaving the city. The study equated that to losing a local payroll of 3,000 jobs. Again, when things can be put into these terms, you can see very clearly how this affects cities.

In addition to economic benefits, actions taken to protect the climate change and reduce CO2 emissions also improve local air quality.

Now I'm going to talk a bit about local government representation at the global forum. "Although it was national governments that signed the climate change convention at the Rio Earth Summit, they did not set targets to reduce CO2 emissions. Now, it is the cities of the world that are setting specific targets. The real global leadership for the reducing of CO2 emissions and energy conservation is coming from municipal leaders."

Do you recognize that quote? That was Dr. Noel Brown. He was then the director of the North American region at the UN Environment Program. I think it is important to note that, we heard mention of the AOSIS goal earlier today by a couple of the speakers. AOSIS is the Association of Small Island States. The reduction goal that they are urging is a 20 percent reduction in CO2 emissions below 1990 levels by the year 2005.

I want to mention that the very first entity to commit itself to a greenhouse gas reduction goal was a city - the city of Toronto, Canada. Its original target was a 20 percent reduction below 1988 levels by the year 2005. That was originally called the Toronto target.

One of ICLEI's purposes is to represent local governments at gatherings like this to communicate the need for and importance of municipal action on this issue. Because local governments have such a strong influence on their communities' day-to-day energy use, there is a critical need for national and international agencies and governments to acknowledge the necessary role and contribution of local governments in curbing global warming.

Local governments recognize the stake they have and important role they play in this arena. They came together at the ICLEI-sponsored Municipal Leaders Summit on Climate Change that was held in New York in 1993. The municipal leaders at this summit initiated the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign. The Campaign is designed to be a catalyst for bringing local governments to the international forum on climate change.

At the beginning of this year, 90 cities representing 50 million people and 550 megatons of CO2 were members of the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign. Today, there are over 130 cities worldwide in the campaign, representing a full five percent of global CO2 emissions. Many of these cities have already adopted the Toronto Target as their emission reduction goal.

ICLEI held a second summit in conjunction with the first Conference of the Parties meeting in Berlin last spring. The 350 participating local government leaders drafted a communique to the COP, urging developed nations to adopt the Toronto Target. Additionally, it calls for formal recognition of the municipal sector by the COP. This communique was also placed in the U.S. Congressional Record.

A third Municipal Leaders Summit on Climate Change was just held this past October in Saitama, Japan. At that summit, over 200 cities representing 55 nations worldwide reiterated this call for local action to protect the global climate.

ICLEI, which sponsors many different local environmental initiatives has focused much of its work on climate change for three big reasons. First of all, this focus on climate change is very much constituent-driven. Cities have wanted to play a stronger role, and local authorities are the level of government which has taken the lead on this issue, by committing to reduction goals before their national governments have. Originally, this lead was taken through the action of Toronto, and now cities are continuing to lead by participating in the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign.

The second big reason we focused on climate protection is that cities have for a long time appreciated the benefits that they reap from reducing CO2 emissions. Thirdly, ICLEI as an organization recognizes the role of local communities in solving this particular global problem.

In closing, I would like to say that we can't solve the problem of global climate change unless we utilize the full participation and action of cities.

Thank you.

Go To Counter Perspective