Developing and implementing a climate action plan is often a big task for mayors and city leaders. With countless demands, all requiring a share of already scarce time, resources, and attention, sustainability programs are sometimes seen more as a burden than a benefit. However, mayors from diverse cities throughout the country are coming to realize that climate action provides opportunities for improving communities and enhancing existing city programs.
Getting city and community leaders to take that first step towards developing and executing bold climate programs is the greatest hurdle. Fortunately, it may also be the simplest. It all begins with networking and collaboration.
Cities are where the action is on climate change. A majority of Americans live in cities, which are now responsible for producing more than 40% of the country’s fossil fuel emissions. And leaders of cities are becoming well aware that they have a unique opportunity to make a difference on climate change.
To address the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities presented by climate change, cities are collaborating to find sustainability solutions that are advantageous for their communities.
These networks range in scale and scope, and represent a growing opportunity for effecting positive climate action. For instance, last year a coalition of mayors from the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative signed on to an historic climate agreement signaling their commitment to building strong, prosperous, and livable communities. Nationally, cities have taken on the role of enacting the Obama Administration’s signature climate policy, the Clean Power Plan. Cities and states are tasked with developing and realizing solutions that work best for their residents’ unique needs.
And just this week, a groundbreaking new merger between the Compact of Mayors and the EU Covenant of Mayors was announced, creating the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate Energy. Slated to launch in 2017, the new organization is a collaboration of cities around the world that are committed to advancing climate solutions.
These organizations allow cities to network, share ideas, successes, and lessons from past challenges so that individual cities can implement the strongest action plan possible. Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg explains that the new alliance will facilitate “cities and local governments in setting more ambitious climate reduction goals, taking aggressive action to meet those objectives, and measuring their progress.”
And government networks aren’t the only option.
Some of the strongest partnerships are those created between municipalities and alternative actors in the community. Much of the most innovative, important and inspirational work on climate comes from the private, nonprofit, and faith sectors.
- Business: Perhaps the greatest asset of the private sector is its ability to find efficiencies and cut costs in order to be profitable in day-to-day business. This can be especially helpful for implementing climate solutions. In a recent piece on bike-shares, we discussed how many cities are engaging in public-private partnerships to fund and operate public programs that would otherwise be financially out of reach. Through smart investing and private financing, businesses bring climate solutions to city programs that might not exist otherwise.
- Health: In conjunction with our partners at Climate for Health, ecoAmerica recently held a summit bringing together leaders in the Healthcare community to identify areas for collaboration on climate action. In our cities, poor and working class Americans are disproportionately affected by the health consequences of climate change. These include an increased incidence of asthma, exposure to pollutants, and respiratory problems. By bringing health professionals into the conversation, mayors can improve the lives of residents in their cities.
- Faith: Faith leaders often speak with the greatest moral authority in our communities. Last year, Pope Francis issued Laudato Si, calling on all of us to take climate action and work as stewards of our environment. Groups from all faiths now have creation care as a pillar of their teaching, and are inspiring and educating their congregations to take positive action. Mayors can work with faith leaders to encourage more sustainable practices at home, in their place of worship, and in their lives.
Already, cities are taking advantage of these various sectors. In Salt Lake City, Mayor Jackie Biskupski helped launch the Utah Climate Action Network. This program pulls together a broad collation of leaders from health, interfaith organizations, higher education, and businesses. The Network also works with municipalities and state officials. Already successful at increasing local rooftop solar programs, communicating the consequences of climate action with residents, and attracting talent in the push for climate solutions, the program represents what is possible with collaboration at its best.
Partnerships make climate action possible for cities of all sizes. By collaborating with cities, state and federal government actors, and even with international bodies, mayors are able to direct their resources to the most effective climate solutions. At the local level, working in tandem with faith, health, business and educational leaders, city governments can further hone their climate action plans.
Simply reaching out is the first step to climate action. You can start today by joining with leaders at Path to Positive Communities. Gain access to proven climate tools, learn the most effective ways to communicate with your community about the benefits and opportunities of climate action, and inspire residents to get involved in effecting positive change. Become the leader that your city wants and needs!
Stuart Wood is a writer at Path to Positive Communities and an adjunct professor. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Claremont Graduate University, where he focused on climate change, political communications and psychology. Email him at email@example.com.