Making the Business Case for Cities-Driven Climate Protections

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport


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“Today it is no longer the case that greater prosperity means increased carbon emissions,” said Phoenix's mayor, ahead of the U.S. Conference of Mayors 85th Annual Meeting in Miami Beach this weekend.

Climate change is a local issue mayors don’t have the luxury of ignoring, and a strong business case for protections is the best defense against deniers, said Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton on Thursday.

Stanton chairs the U.S. Conference of Mayors Environment Committee, which will meet Saturday in Miami Beach to consider a bipartisan resolution for a cities-driven plan to reverse climate change, among others.

Phoenix’s mayor also happens to be part of the progressive network of NewDEAL Leaders, which held a conference call Thursday afternoon to discuss state and local efforts to combat climate change following President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the international Paris Climate Agreement.

“Today it is no longer the case that greater prosperity means increased carbon emissions,” Stanton said of Trump’s “false” argument that climate protections stifle economic development.

The business community being ahead of government on climate-related issues, mayors are actually finding that their credit ratings are, in part, based on how well their resilience efforts are going.

Phoenix represents “one of the most dramatic sustainability comeback stories in the United States," Stanton said, having been dubbed "the world’s least sustainable city" in the 2011 book “Birds on Fire”. The city is warming 1 degree per decade, and planes were grounded Monday and Tuesday, due to a heat wave lasting several days that prevented them from taking off. High temperatures threaten the Colorado River water Phoenix relies on with drought and cause increased wildfires in the surrounding area.

Since Stanton became mayor, the city has partnered with Arizona State University on sustainability projects, set the 2050 goal of being both carbon neutral and zero waste, installed solar panels all over town, begun converting its 100,000 streetlights to LED, and grown the largest electric vehicle fleet in the U.S.

In the near term, Phoenix aims to reduce its carbon emissions 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. An initial investment in light rail spurred $9 billion of additional investment within a quarter-mile of the track, while making for a more walkable urban core and stronger economy.

More than 300 U.S. cities have joined the We Are Still In coalition backing the Paris Agreement, since Trump’s announcement, as well as key governors touting the economic and health benefits of climate protections for communities.

Shelley Poticha, the Natural Resource Defense Council’s Urban Solutions team director, is working with Los Angeles on a pilot electric vehicle car-sharing program for low-income households. But she’s realistic about the harm Trump’s decision will have on vehicle standards, the Clean Power Plan and climate protections in general.

“It is going to be very difficult to maintain the momentum,” Poticha said, referring to the 12 percent reduction in U.S. emissions since 2005.

U.S. Rep. Scott Peters, a San Diego Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called the Paris decision “morally wrong and monumentally stupid” because of the message it’s sent to cash-flush clean energy investors.

The U.S. military has been on the cutting edge of energy innovation out of necessity, he said. Tired of reorienting missions based on the price of petroleum, the Navy is looking at a “great, green fleet” of hybrid ships that run on electricity under 12 knots and fuel when over. And Marines are sporting backpacks with solar panels.

“They’re doing it because there’s a business case for it, not because they’re tree huggers,” Peters said.

Bipartisan support for Peters’ STRONG Act, which would create a clearinghouse of disaster resiliency information for states and localities, has grown in spite of lawmakers that doubt the cause of extreme weather because of the need to prepare for its effects.

Peters is also pushing for the reauthorization of the Safe Drinking Water Act with Flint, Michigan in mind.

Part of Phoenix residents’ water bills goes toward forest restoration projects in Northern Arizona because of the interconnection between forest management and water conservation. The city has also partnered with local Native American tribes to store water on their land and take less from the Colorado River, raising the water table of Lake Mead.

Mayors can’t wait for the Department of the Interior under Trump to act on these issues, Stanton said.

“I shouldn’t limit my thinking as mayor to the boundaries of my city,” he said. “Cities have a huge impact on the system.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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