POLITICS
11/24/2015 08:34 am ET Updated Dec 01, 2015

Mayors Take On Crucial Roles Fighting Climate Change

In the years ahead, the public will see if local leaders can deliver substantive results if national leaders cannot.

As the world considers how to respond to our changing climate, mayors have become even more critical in not only driving a global discussion but leading their cities toward more sustainable futures.

The vast majority of cities are located in coastal regions, putting their inhabitants at greater risks from rising sea levels and hurricanes. Urban residents look to mayors not just to respond to natural disasters but to increase the resilience of cities by implementing climate adaptation plans.

When the United Nations Climate Change Conference convenes in Paris on Nov. 30, a group of American mayors will be in attendance, representing 100 city leaders from across the United States who have committed to reducing emissions, tracking progress and preparing for the impact a changing climate will have on communities.

“Supporting a global climate agreement is critically important for cities around the world,” Ralph Becker, mayor of Salt Lake City and president of the National League of Cities, said in a statement back in August, when the mayors announced they'd be at the Paris summit. “I’m honored and encouraged that so many of my fellow city leaders have joined in this mission for their residents and the thousands of communities throughout the nation.”

TED ALJIBE via Getty Images

In many ways, the increased role of mayors is common sense.  

Cities have been where humans have congregated for commerce, culture and creativity for millennia. In the 21st century, cities have also become an important front in a global battle against the effects of our changing climate.

About 60 percent of the world's population will live in cities by 2030, accounting for the bulk of humanity's greenhouse gas emissions and energy usage. 

“Cities are leading the charge against climate change, and one of the reasons is that they share so much in common -- what works for one city usually holds valuable lessons for many others," former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who now serves as the U.N. secretary-general’s special envoy for cities and climate change, said in a statement in September. "The more we help city leaders collaborate and share their wisdom, the faster they can make progress."

Urbanites are currently building upon initiatives that mayors of the planet's biggest cities steadily adopted over the past decade:

This global list of cities with initiatives and goals could go on and on, but many cities don't have the deep pockets that nations do to carry them out. Others haven't given mayors the policy levers to force industries to change. 

The more we help city leaders collaborate and share their wisdom, the faster they can make progress. former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg

To sell these plans, mayors must ground sustainable changes in transportation or energy systems in economic development and cost savings.

That's why efforts that convene multiple community stakeholders -- like the "Envision Charlotte" program in Charlotte, North Carolina -- matter.

Even though it was not politically feasible for Charlotte to pass an ordinance limiting greenhouse gas emissions, the city was still able to reduce energy usage by 16 percent in its 61 largest buildings in 5 years by getting powerful real estate and banking interests involved in changing habits at their local properties.

While survey data shows broad global concern about climate change and support for limiting emissions, partisan divides persist in the U.S., Australia, Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom. When partisan polarization gets in the way or national government response lags, local and state leadership become critical.

In the absence of congressional action in the U.S., President Barack Obama's climate agenda has specifically focused on building consensus and commitments from U.S. mayors.

In the years ahead, the public will see if local leaders can deliver substantive results, if national leaders cannot.

More on this topic:

  • Donald "It's Cold Outside" Trump
    "It&rsquo;s&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/314744479821205505?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw" target="_blank">
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    "It’s snowing & freezing in NYC. What the hell ever happened to global warming?" -- March 2013

    “I believe in clean air. Immaculate air. But I don't believe in climate change." -- Sept. 2015

    "It's really cold outside, they are calling it a major freeze, weeks ahead of normal. Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming!" -- Oct. 2015
  • Ben "This Always Happens" Carson
    &ldquo;There&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2014-11-26/ben-carson-not-convinced-on-global-warmin
    Erik Kabik Photography/ MediaPunch/MediaPunch/IPx
    “There’s always going to be either cooling or warming going on. As far as I’m concerned, that’s irrelevant. What is relevant is that we have an obligation and a responsibility to protect our environment." -- Nov. 2014

    "Of course there's climate change. Any point in time, temperatures are going up or temperatures are going down. Of course that's happening. When that stops happening, that's when we're in big trouble." -- Sept. 2015
  • Marco "Oh But The Jobs" Rubio
    &ldquo;We are&nbsp;<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/17/marco-rubio-chris-christie-climate-change-republic
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    “We are not going to destroy our economy, make America a harder place to create jobs, in order to pursue a policy that will do nothing, nothing to change our climate, to change our weather." -- Sept. 2015

    "America is not a planet." -- Sept. 2015
  • Ted "You Climate Blasphemers, You" Cruz
    &ldquo;If you look at satellite data for the last 18 years, there&rsquo;s been zero recorded warming. The satellite <a href="
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    “If you look at satellite data for the last 18 years, there’s been zero recorded warming. The satellite says it ain’t happening.” -- August 2015

    “Climate change is not science. It's religion." -- Oct. 2015
  • Jeb "Well Maybe, But I'm A Republican" Bush
    "The climate is changing, whether <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2015/06/16/jeb-bush-climate-change_n_7596568.html
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    "The climate is changing, whether men are doing it or not." -- June 2015

    “I don't think it's the highest priority. I don’t think we should ignore it, either." -- August 2015
  • Carly "I Worked With Scientists And They're All Wrong" Fiorina
    "I believe if you're going to go to science, you need to read the fine print. And here's what the scientists say: <a href="ht
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    "I believe if you're going to go to science, you need to read the fine print. And here's what the scientists say: A single nation acting alone can make no difference at all." -- Sept. 2015

    “The only answer to this problem, according to the scientist, is a three-decade global effort, coordinated and costing coordinated effort. It's impossible, are you kidding? A three-decade effort, costing trillions of dollars, coordinated with current technology? It’ll never happen.” -- Sept. 2015
  • Mike "Um, Kaboom" Huckabee
    "Science is <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2015/06/21/mike-huckabee-climate-change_n_7632030.html?ir=Australia" ta
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    "Science is not as settled on that as it is on some things.” -- June 2015

    "A volcano in one blast will contribute more than a hundred years of human activity." -- August 2015
  • Chris "Sure, But Nah" Christie
    "I think <a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/chris-christie-climate-change-new-hampshire" target="_blank">global w
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    "I think global warming is real. I don't think that's deniable. And I do think human activity contributes to it."* -- May 2015

    *But Christie has adamantly opposed New Jersey joining into a multi-state greenhouse gas initiative, calling it "a completely useless plan.” -- Sept. 2014
  • John "It's Your Kids' Problem" Kasich
    &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t want to destroy people&rsquo;s jobs, <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/08/09/3689649/john-
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    “We don’t want to destroy people’s jobs, based on some theory that is not proven.” --August 2015

    "Do I believe there is something called climate change? I do. Do I think that human beings affect it? I do. How much? Not enough for me to go out and cost somebody their job." -- Oct. 2015
  • Rand "Doesn't Really Know" Paul
    "<a href="http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/204235-paul-science-behind-climate-change-not-conclusive" target="_bla
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    "Not conclusive." -- April 2014

    "Not sure anybody exactly knows why." -- April 2014

    "Alarmist." -- April 2014

    "I don't want to shut down all forms of energy such that thousands and thousands of people lose jobs.” -- April 2015
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