Five Things City Leaders Should Know About the Paris Withdrawal

After President Donald Trump announced Thursday that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, hundreds of city leaders spoke out to denounce the decision. From New York to Pittsburgh to Dubuque, Iowa, mayors and councilmembers pledged to oppose the withdrawal, work on alternative actions, and continue to address climate change in their own communities.

Here are five key facts city leaders should know about the president’s decision to withdraw and its ramifications.

1. America’s cities are already feeling the effects of climate change.

Global climate change is not just a threat on the horizon — the reality is already here. Extreme weather events like heat waves, hurricanes, and even blizzards are happening with greater frequency and intensity. Catastrophic flooding events and nuisance flooding problems have increased nationwide, hitting coastal communities like Norfolk, Virginia, Annapolis, Maryland, and Honolulu, Hawaii. And rising temperatures are spelling danger for cities like Salt Lake City and Denver, where heat waves and reduced snowfall have contributed to drought conditions in the west.

2. City leaders will continue to be on the front lines of the issue.

When climate change–related disasters strike, cities leaders serve as the first responders. These events impact public health, infrastructure, safety, community and local economies. Mayors and city councilmembers don’t just have a duty to respond — they must also proactively plan for the consequences before disaster strikes. Building community resilience for these types of events can ensure that a city or town is able to recover quicker and stronger when disaster strikes.

3. Climate action can create jobs and boost local economies.

Contrary to President Trump’s statements regarding the climate accord, climate change initiatives have proven to be economic drivers for many years. Between 2012 and 2016, the fastest growing profession in America was solar installer, and the solar industry as a whole continues to be one of the fastest growing sectors. While the coal industry employs 160,000 people, the wind and solar industries employ 475,000. These well-compensated local jobs can’t be outsourced, and they now contribute strongly to local tax bases in many small towns and rural areas. Additionally, cities can create green tax money savings by improving the energy efficiency of their municipal buildings, converting to LED streetlights, and committing to renewable energy goals.

4. Local environmental progress will be more difficult without a federal partner.

With hundreds of cities committed to the Paris agreement’s emissions targets, American communities are already on the right track. But having a federal partner at their side makes those commitments more achievable. Without the U.S. as a party, and considering the president’s proposed budget cuts to climate programs, cities will also miss out on essential tools, research, data and funding to support local action. It will mean cities have less ability to conduct climate risk assessments, monitor and report emissions, and build resilient water, transportation and energy systems.

5. Cities will have to stand together — and join with some unlikely partners.

To date, more than 80 mayors have signed on to the Climate Mayors statement, more than 130 U.S. cities have signed on to the Compact of Mayors, and more than 70 city leaders have signed NLC’s climate action letter. Meanwhile, dozens of governors, business leaders, institutions and foreign heads of state have all voiced their support for climate action at the local level. As NLC President Matt Zone said this week, “Cities will continue to advocate for ambitious policies that address this global crisis, and will lead by example at the local level.”

Last week, NLC released its State of the Cities report analyzing mayoral state of the city speeches from 120 mayors nationwide. Twenty-four percent of mayors spoke at length about the environment and energy-related issues, and many cities made clear, specific and accountable goals, including:

  • Boston: Become 100 percent carbon-neutral by 2050
  • Duluth, Minnesota: Reduce municipal emissions by 15 percent in the mayor’s first term
  • Salt Lake City: Rely on 100 percent renewable energy by 2032 and reduce total carbon footprint by 80 percent by 2040
  • San Jose, California: Rely on 100 percent renewable energy by 2027

For more information, learn how a coalition of cities and institutions have pledged to create a Low Carbon USA, read NLC’s statement on the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and join 70+ local elected officials by signing onto our #Cities4Climate letter.

About the author: Carolyn Berndt is the program director for infrastructure and sustainability on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. She leads NLC’s advocacy, regulatory and policy efforts on energy and environmental issues, including water infrastructure and financing, air and water quality, climate change and energy efficiency. Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @BerndtCarolyn.