11/14/2014 03:56 pm ET Updated Jan 14, 2015

US-China Agreement is Good for American Cities

The historic agreement announced this week between the United States and China to limit carbon emissions is a major step toward both helping solve the problems caused by climate change and also creating a planet which will be fit for future generations to inhabit.

Much of the media coverage of the pact has focused on the substantial commitments made by both nations to create and use new forms of energy which burn less fossil fuels.

But the agreement also features "Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities" as a promising strategy both nations can deploy.

With populations in both countries increasingly concentrated in cities, a plan which helps urban areas have less impact on climate change is key to managing both long-term energy demand and carbon emissions. The agreement commits both countries to promote low-carbon urban areas and share "planning, policies, and use of technologies for sustainable, resilient, low-carbon growth."

Part of this effort will involve a summit meeting for leaders of climate-smart cities efforts in both countries to meet and share best practices.

Here in the United States, cities are increasingly central to not only fighting climate change, but also developing innovative solutions that can be adapted or scaled to other cities. And we are seeing a corresponding surge in public-private activity and financial investment. From coast to coast, cities are reducing carbon footprints by using green infrastructure to naturally connect, cool, absorb, and protect their environments. The result, hard as it may be to believe on the surface, is that cities are functioning somewhat like forests when it comes to helping mitigate climate change.

What is a climate-smart city?

These investments in the natural parts of cities are being combined with smarter buildings, including energy-efficient structures and creative use of high-tech sensors which help cities find and fix energy inefficiencies in water, transit, and other municipal operations.

Climate-smart city efforts here in the U.S. will be boosted by this international commitment. International efforts will spur new innovations and more investments in city-scaled solutions to climate change.

There is an alphabet soup of federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Agriculture, and others, all of which have tools that are being used to help boost climate-smart cities, from increased tree cover and building up coastal wetlands in seaside communities, to efficient water treatment and housing. And because of the White House Climate Data Initiative, the federal government is also well positioned to provide data that shows where carbon emissions are being generated and help cities closely track progress on reductions.

Beside the federal agencies, there are a variety of other partners for cities, including state and local governments, non-profit agencies, corporations, and research universities. All are helping the effort to create climate-smart cities.

The announcement with China means these efforts will gain new allies and ideas. China's rapidly-growing cities - and creation of entire new cities - will demonstrate new learning for us, while China can integrate strategies that are is working in this country.

Climate change, while a long-range problem requiring long-term strategies, demands that we take action right now. We all must do our part, and meeting this challenge will take new tools and cooperation. The new agreement with China will provide both.