As sea levels rise, the planet warms, extreme weather events occur more often, and the impacts of climate change become increasingly evident. Cities worldwide contribute to greenhouse gas emissions through energy production, business, industry, and transportation. However, some cities in the U.S. have particularly large carbon footprints due to their heavy use of fossil fuels, and emit higher than average levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Among these cities are Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City—all of which have recently taken action to help lower emissions and address global warming through the use of clean energy. For example, last year, New York City’s Mayor, Bill de Blasio, pledged to follow through on the city’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve zero waste by 2030.

Which Cities Have a Large Carbon Footprint?

Globally, carbon footprints are highly concentrated into a small number of dense, high-income cities, and affluent suburbs. This is why many experts believe that the key to slowing global warming may lie with our cities. In fact, a new study that maps out the carbon footprint of 13,000 cities shows that emissions generally track closely with a city’s population and income levels, with top emitters being cities with larger per person footprints and higher incomes.

Given that cities are responsible for 70% of energy-related CO2 emissions, local action can meaningfully affect national and global emissions. Some measures to achieve decarbonization at city and state levels might include limiting non-electric vehicles and requiring 100% renewable electricity from clean energy sources. Luckily, many cities worldwide, and especially in the U.S., have taken such steps in order to help tackle the climate crisis.

In the last decade:

  • 155 cities have committed to community-wide renewable energy.
  • 15 states (plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico) have official targets to acquire 50% of their electricity from renewable sources.
  • Businesses are playing an important role by purchasing renewable energy, investing in battery storage, pairing electric vehicle charging with renewables, and matching energy consumption to renewable resources.
  • Many utilities, including some of the top in the U.S., have set decarbonization goals and committed to a green energy transition.

The World Resources Institute believes that city governments must work simultaneously in order to achieve municipal energy demand with renewables, partner with residents and the business community to increase community-wide access to clean energy, and break down system-level barriers.

Some clean energy trends in American cities to look out for this year:

1. Cities and Businesses Collaborating to Cut Carbon Emissions

Along with addressing municipal energy usage, getting the support of community stakeholders (i.e. local businesses) is extremely important when making progress towards a clean energy transition. Because of this, you can expect to see more collaboration across all business sectors in order to achieve this.

A great example of this has been demonstrated by Philadelphia when mayor Jim Kenney launched the Climate Collaborative of Greater Philadelphia to provide training and technical assistance to city leaders to implement their own climate-related goals.

2. Cities Signing Revolutionary Utility-Scale Clean Energy Deals

In the last few years, many cities have signed increasingly large power purchase agreements (PPAs) to source electricity from renewable, clean energy sources for municipal and community use.

In 2018, Philadelphia signed a 70 megawatt PPA representing 22% of the city government’s energy generation. Additionally, last year, Cincinnati signed a 100 megawatt deal for our country’s largest municipal solar farm, with the first 35 megawatts meeting about 30% of the city’s municipal needs, and the remaining 65 megawatts benefiting community residents who get their electricity from the city’s community choice aggregation program.

In 2020, you can expect to see cities get even craftier with PPAs, and also potentially see joint deals with other jurisdictions or community partners like businesses and universities.

3. Cities Teaming Up to Overcome Barriers to Entry

Cities have already started to work together in order to combat the barriers to entry associated with clean energy commitments, such as laws or regulations that come from outside the city limits.

Colorado, for example, launched The Colorado Cities for Climate Action coalition, which works to expand state climate policy by providing testimony from local officials, and supporting climate-friendly bills. In 2020, anticipate more cities to collaborate to engage with state, regulatory, and wholesale market players.

4. Cities Exploring Different Channels to Shape Their Energy Future

As cities become increasingly aware of the influence that utilities and state regulatory commissions have over the renewable energy options available to local governments, they have begun working together for regulatory change. Cities in Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, and Wisconsin have officially partnered with their investor-owned utilities, establishing new avenues to collaborate toward their shared climate and energy goals.

It’s clear that cities play an important role in not only tackling the climate crisis, but also in increasing access to renewable energy. These are some of the trends you can keep following to see the progress the U.S. makes in the clean energy transition.

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