Including Cities in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan
President Obama presented his Climate Action Plan yesterday, asking Americans to take seriously the threat of climate change and adopt behaviors and policies that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. CNT applauds the president’s leadership.
As the president knows, having served on our Board of Directors, CNT has helped cities and their residents make these kinds of sustainable choices for 35 years. We’ve also challenged and overturned the conventional wisdom that cities are the biggest carbon emission culprits. CNT’s research actually shows that cities can be the most efficient places to live, with their lower per capita greenhouse gas emissions due to efficient land use and transportation alternatives. For many reasons, cities offer the greatest opportunities to help solve the climate crisis.
From our perspective, many of the solutions lie in a system we call the resilient, efficiency-driven economy—a framework that leverages the inherent competitive advantages of cities and metropolitan regions, an economy that reduces household and business expenses at the same time that it reduces emissions.
A resilient, efficiency-driven economy re-imagines America’s cities in a way that capitalizes on four key characteristics:
- Resource efficiency – Using the least amount of energy and other resources to create a good and productive quality of life for all citizens
- Location efficiency – Smart development that concentrates housing, transit, jobs and amenities in a way that delivers fast, convenient, equitable and affordable connections
- Landscape efficiency – Adjustment to urban terrains and land-use patterns that can productively absorb rainfall, avoid flooding, and recharge the aquifer
- Distributed infrastructure – Decentralized and redundant systems, especially energy and transportation, that focus on local supply and demand
Urban economies are already more resource efficient and location efficient than the economy as a whole, but more can be done to make cities work better for all residents. Regional planning and design has focused too much on concrete, glass and steel, as opposed to community building, permeable surfaces and conscientious construction. Critical systems are highly centralized, making them inefficient and vulnerable to climate and other shocks. Still, opportunities abound.
In Chicago, CNT has turned the resilient, efficiency-driven economy approach into tangible programs that benefit residents:
- We retrofitted 12,643 multifamily units, saving owners nearly 30 percent on average on natural gas bills, and reducing CO2 emissions by 17,607 metric tons since 2008
- We pioneered car sharing in Chicago, creating a market for an affordable alternative to private car ownership where none existed, providing an economical option for residents and reducing emissions in the region
- We constructed a Green Infrastructure Portfolio Standard to guide planners and communities in the multiple benefits of green infrastructure investments to capture the value of stormwater, and reduce emissions
The president’s call to action is not a choice between environment and economy. It’s an investment in both. And, it shows that smart strategies, especially the prioritization of place-based initiatives, can empower Americans to reduce expenses and emissions. The result: a lean, clean, resilient, and resource-efficient economy that works for everyone.
Scott Bernstein is President of the Center for Neighborhood Technology. Scott served on the President’s Council for Sustainable Development in the Clinton Administration, and co-chaired its task forces on Metropolitan Sustainable Communities and on Cross-Cutting Climate Strategies. More recently, Scott helped create the Chicago Climate Action Plan at the request of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.