How cities are using clean energy commitments to prosper

Cities have long been testing grounds for policy innovation. That identity is critical as we barrel headfirst into an urbanized world. As of 2014, 54 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas, and the United Nations estimates that by 2050, over 6 billion people will live in cities.

So, it only makes practical and economic sense that local leaders around the world have doubled-downed on addressing one of, if not the, biggest threats to humans and the planet we call home: climate change.

In fact, over 300 U.S. mayors have reaffirmed their commitment to meet the climate reduction goals set forth in the 2016 Paris Agreement.

Leading American cities

After President Trump called out Pittsburgh in his announcement to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, the city announced its plan to go 100 percent renewable.

The “Steel City” is among a rapidly growing cohort of global urban centers in red and blue states, and in the developing and developed world, that have committed to act on climate and use more clean energy.

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That said, ensuring all residents can access clean energy, are included in planning, and are rightfully considered recognizing structural and historic barriers is essential for cities. This requires that considerations of equity and access move beyond pilot programs and testing, and truly drive the culture and objectives of local agencies.

California is home to two great examples of cities making equity and access, with measurable standards, fundamental to climate and clean energy commitments and operations of local services and the future workforce:

  • In 2009, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission ‒ which delivers power to city agencies and customers across the Bay Area ‒ became the first public utility in the nation to adopt an environmental justice policy. With it, the utility made a commitment to lesson disproportionate environmental impact on disadvantaged communities across all agency operations.
  • Recently, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power announced adoption of equity performance indicators designed to address geographic and demographic disparities in services and investment. The department’s effort was not just important for setting a precedent but also for replicability. The California Energy Commission has since undertaken an effort to set equity metrics for statewide energy service programs.

Keeping focus on energy equity will be critical to making exponential renewable energy commitments and innovative third party partnerships.

Clean cities everywhere

As we recently noted, the clean energy transition is something new: Clean energy isn’t an established city service like picking up the trash. Nor has it always been a major focus of cities.

A new report from Meister Consultants provides some guidance (Environmental Defense Fund staff provided technical guidance to the report’s authors). The Meister report outlines options for cities pursuing 100 percent clean energy.

With the help of new resources and lessons learned by trailblazing municipalities, growing numbers of citizens can make their cities vehicles for improved health and local economies, and for taking direct action against climate change. Because as more and more cities are showing – clean energy is a win for local governments and the people they serve.

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