Since the United States withdrew from the Pari Agreement in June, U.S. cities have demonstrated that decision-making on matters like climate action need not come from the federal government; in fact, as cities take matters into hand, they are demonstrating the power of local mobilization and collaboration. As part of U.S. Climate Action Center’s “We Are Still In” campaign at the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) in Bonn, Germany, an event was held on November 10, under the title “City Actions To Decarbonize Buildings.” The event featured a discussion of key proven and emerging strategies for cities to achieve decarbonization in buildings.
The conversation was moderated by Elizabeth Beardsley, Senior Policy Counsel at host company U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Panelists included council member at the City of Santa Monica Pam O’Connor, Clay Nesler, VP of Global Sustainability and Industry Initiatives at Johnson Controls and Jennifer Layke, the Global Director in Energy Programs at World Resources Institute (WRI).
“In South Bay, there are 16 cities. They don’t all have the capacity, time, resources to move towards decarbonization,” said O’Connor, adding that there’s where city clusters come in handy, giving an example of the City Association of Governments, which brings together 16 cities.
Nesler spoke about a case study of Johnson Controls’ work with the Hawaii Department of Transportation in late 2013. His company was awarded a 20-year contract by the Hawaii Department of Transportation to reduce energy usage by 49 percent at 12 airports in the city for a total savings of $518 million. Johnson Controls replaced 75,000 light fixtures, installed upgrades to HVAC equipment and controls and installed 8,100 solar photovoltaic panels.
“We all know the large cities that are leaders in this, right?” Nesler asked both the audience and his fellow panelists. “There are cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, but a lot of the opportunities are in smaller seaside cities.”
Nesler gave an example of cities that have struggled to reach decarbonization. Marquette, Michigan, is a small community in the Midwest that wanted to do something similar to what was done in Hawaii; it wanted to dig deep and keep score, but was hindered by the challenges of financing. “Hawaii had a very good credit rating, conditioning municipal bond, signed up for 20 years,” he explained, pointing out that it was the energy cost savings that funded the entire project over the contract term, not taxpayers. “[Marquette] didn’t have that kind of credit arrangement. And issuing a bond like that could impact a future debt capacity, it would be on balance sheet and it would be on credit, so that poses a problem. So what communities like Marquette did in the state of Michigan is they worked collectively to change state legislation, to allow something called Tax Exempt Lease Provisions – think of it as a municipal lease. Not a bond, but a lease.”
There are more than 2,500 local leaders that have signed the “We Are Still In” statement, bringing together more than 230 cities, 1,700 businesses, 320 colleges in nine states. They all unite to reach three main objectives: increase support for climate action across the country, demonstrate enduring U.S. leadership on climate change to the rest of the world and mobilize greater ambition from local leaders to the transition to clean energy.