President Obama’s Challenge to Cities: An Opportunity for Global Climate Action
Obama Speech UN

President Obama’s recent announcement of new clean energy initiatives is a major opportunity for galvanizing climate action at a global level. Photo by United Nations/Flickr.

Yesterday, the number of US cities pledging to reduce emissions with the Compact of Mayors nearly doubled. With 19 cities in the U.S. already signed onto the Compact—a global coalition of mayors dedicated to climate action—this most recent move brings the total to 34.

But President Obama has signaled that more can and needs to be done, publicly challenging all Mayors to commit to a climate action plan before COP later this year and setting a goal of having 100 US cities signed onto the Compact by the end of November. City leaders not only in the U.S. but around the world should take up the President’s challenge and sign onto the Compact of Mayors, reinforcing the global voice for a low-carbon future.

The 15 cities—from Atlanta and Chicago to New York and Seattle—that announced their commitment yesterday demonstrated great leadership. While a critical step in the right direction, this development also represents an opportunity for cities both in the U.S. and globally to commit to climate action. By joining the Compact of Mayors, city leaders gain a valuable platform for launching measures to reduce emissions, track progress, and learn from one another. The more cities that join, the stronger the message that a universal agreement on climate change is not only necessary, but within reach.

Action Today for a Low-Carbon Economy Tomorrow

The challenge yesterday came alongside President Obama’s unveiling of new executive actions on renewable energy and energy efficiency. Ranging from investments in solar technology to partnerships with non-profits and the private sector, these actions are part of a comprehensive vision for a low-carbon economy. In fact, recent research from the New Climate Economy shows that addressing climate change now is an opportunity for achieving this vision and spurring economic growth.

Clean energy isn’t simply a matter of developing innovative technology—this is a first step. Both cities and individual consumers often face significant challenges accessing sustainable means of financing energy efficiency improvements. Making it easier for cities, building owners, and homeowners alike to tap into funds is critical for reducing emissions. This is one reason why President Obama’s executive actions and private sector commitments—including $1 billion for additional loan guarantees—represent such a major step forward.

Building momentum toward the climate negotiations in Paris requires action from all levels. However, with cities accounting for approximately 75 percent of global energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 85 percent of global GDP, action at the city-level is imperative. Given the extraordinary costs of failing to act, the time to invest for a sustainable future is now.

WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities contributed to establishing the Compact of Mayors, under the leadership of the world’s leading city networks, including C40, ICLEI, UCLG, and other partners. Already, 107 cities, plus the new 15 cities, representing over 200 million people, have committed to the Compact of Mayors.

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