The staff at East Bay Community Energy, which works to provide Bay Area residents with alternative forms of energy.
When CDP released its first-ever global A List of cities this April, one trend stood out: 20% of the global A List were cities based in Northern California. This was despite massive climate and financial stressors in the region (California wildfires in 2018 resulted in its main utility PG&E filing for bankruptcy protection, called the first “climate change bankruptcy”). So what is it about the region and these nine cities that make such widespread climate leadership possible?
State-level leadership drives local action
Many of the A List Bay Area cities credited landmark state legislation in their disclosures to CDP. California laws in 2006 and 2016 required cities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. As the City of Piedmont wrote, “California policies are already impacting Piedmont’s emissions. In fact, forecasts of emissions show that actions by the State of California alone will substantially reduce Piedmont’s.”
This state leadership has not gone unnoticed. In 2018, eight new Californian cities joined CDP – bringing cities disclosing in the state to 30 – many signing on to Governor Jerry Brown’s Universal Climate Disclosure Challenge. Many also joined We Are Still In, an effort to uphold the Paris Agreement, the global agreement on climate change action, despite the 2017 announcement of withdrawal by the Trump Administration.
Absent federal action on climate change, states play a necessary role to achieve deep, long-term reductions in U.S. carbon pollution and strengthen climate resilience. State policy creates the enabling conditions for cities to drive local reductions, as we saw in the CDP A List cities in Northern California.
Collaboration is key to climate leadership
For decades, U.S. cities have used regional councils and associations to further their policy and planning agendas. A recent literature review demonstrates the accelerating phenomenon of metro-scale collective action to address climate change.
All nine of the A List cities are part of a voluntary regional council, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), which provides solutions to climate change and disaster resilience. In its CDP disclosure, the City of San Leandro lists at least nine regional organizations it participates in, including Adapting to Rising Tides, a regional sea level rise and climate adaptation working group, and the Bay Area Climate Adaption Network (BayCAN), a consortium of local governments and scientific bodies coordinating climate resilience and adaptation actions.
Almost all of the A List cities are participating in some kind of Community Choice Aggregation Energy (CCA) program, which allow local governments to procure power on behalf of their residents, businesses, and municipal accounts from an alternative supplier while still receiving transmission and distribution services from their existing utility. For example, San Leandro and Piedmont do this by working with East Bay Community Energy.
Ensuring social equity while advancing climate action
Earning an A from CDP indicates that the city extensively assesses its climate risk and vulnerability. And a common theme across these A List city disclosures is a recognition that climate change impacts largely affect the most vulnerable populations, many of whom are low-income and people of color.
In their 2018 disclosure, the City of Oakland describes that they have the 7th highest income inequality in the United States. “With 19.6% of the population continuing to live beneath the poverty line…Climate change will disproportionately affect these low-income populations that may not have the proper resources necessary to respond to various climate hazards.”
The City of San Leandro makes a similar note on how climate change could affect vulnerable populations. They write, “accompanying climate hazard increases and socio-economic changes will likely increase the demands for city services and regional health care agencies,” and note that “high heat events may affect schools and the disabled and senior communities without indoor cooling systems.” To combat this problem, the City is launching the Resilient San Leandro program, a community-wide discussion of climate hazards including a forum and series of peer-to-peer workshops.
Leading cities are tackling social equity while driving climate action. San Francisco, Oakland, Hayward, and Richmond are several of the U.S. cities working with CDP Matchmaker to link investment to sustainable infrastructure that includes social equity considerations.
Standout action cities are taking
Cities can make significant progress toward climate change mitigation by taking action across four areas: energy supply, buildings, mobility and waste. That’s exactly what Bay Area cities are focusing on.
The City of Palo Alto set an ambitious target to reduce 80% of its emissions by 2030. It focuses on transportation, electric energy, and waste in its climate action plan, with a special emphasis on reducing emissions from automobile traffic. And the City of San Francisco has already reduced greenhouse gas emissions 30% from 1990 levels while growing its economy by 111% and its population by 20%.
And A List cities including San Francisco, Oakland, and Hayward are accelerating these strategic carbon reduction actions by issuing “climate emergencies” to join the global network of cities calling for urgent climate action and a just transition.
Finally, business-city collaborations have accelerated action in the Bay Area
Collaborative efforts between businesses and local governments are an effective strategy to shore up action on climate change. Public-private partnerships are increasing, as cities and businesses work collaboratively to cut emissions and develop the green economy. In the Bay Area, one example of this kind of collaboration is the Business Council on Climate Change(BC3), which works to accelerate the decarbonization of the Bay Area energy system.
Other cities, take note: by involving citizens, local businesses, and neighboring municipalities, you too can improve your chances of ending up on CDP’s Cities A List this time next year. Is your city ready to step up to the A List?