Do Cities Really Take the Lead on Climate Change?

Don’t hold your breath for the feds.

 PhilippeLPhotography pifou95 /Flickr

Climate change is at least a distant fifth in line for attention from the federal government, behind sequestration, debt ceiling, gun control, and immigration. Couple that position with the fact that many Congressional lawmakers don’t even think warming exists, and the United States isn’t likely to take meaningful climate action anytime soon. That means it’s up to localities to take the lead — states in a general sense, but really cities themselves when it comes to the details.

To better understand the motivation for local action, UCLA urban planner Rui Wang has been studying how cities go about taking action on climate change. Wang recently reviewed California planning surveys to determine climate actions taken in 2008 and 2009 by the state’s 480 cities. In an upcoming issue of Urban Affairs Review, Wang reports that cities tend to adopt climate change policies in increments — pushing simple policies first, then in some cases working toward more challenging ones.

In other words, writes Wang, cities pick for the “lower-hanging fruits.” (Even in California, with state environmental laws like S.B. 375 and CEQA in place, cities must implement the policies.)

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The Climate Desk is a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact—human, environmental, economic, political—of a changing climate. The partners are The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Slate, and Wired.