Chicago and New York are just two of the ten American cities—the others are Austin, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle—who are members of the Large Cities Climate Leadership Group (mercifully renamed the C40), which now comprises 58 cities around the world. Roughly 297m people, less than 5% of the Earth’s total, live in the 40 charter-member C40 cities. But they account for 18% of the world’s GDP and 10% of its carbon emissions. In total, cities house more than half the world’s population, and account for two-thirds of its energy consumption and over 60% of its greenhouse-gas emissions.
These cities’ plans vary. One particular strength of urban, as opposed to national or even state climate-change policy, particularly in a country as vast as America, is that cities are different; what works in one may not in another. Missy Stults, who until recently was climate director for ICLEI-USA, an NGO that works with local governments on the subject, says that for climate-change plans to work, “the actions you take have to be local”, tailored to the particular needs of each city. Portland’s plan, for instance, calls for 90% of its citizens to be able to walk or bicycle “to meet all basic, daily non-work needs” by 2030: a laudable and achievable goal there, but far more difficult in sprawling cities such as Los Angeles or Houston. New York’s PlaNYC pays more attention to wetlands and coastal issues than CCAP does, because New York has more coastline and waterways than Chicago.
But there are shared goals as well. All ten American C40-city plans have some sort of transport-policy aspect, whether public, such as switching to hybrid or electric taxis and buses, personal, such as encouraging cycling, or both. They try to reduce the amount of rubbish going to municipal landfills by encouraging composting and recycling; some push for converting waste into usable energy. Many propose more efficient outdoor lighting, which accounts for almost one-fifth of energy consumption across C40 cities and is mostly old and inefficient. And most plans push for retrofitting homes and offices to make them more energy-efficient—especially crucial in densely built cities such as New York, where buildings account for 75% of greenhouse-gas emissions.
These measures are not only environmentally sound. By and large they also save taxpayers money. This makes their benefits far more tangible than simply contributing to a good outcome in the distant future; and a much easier sell.