Nov 10, 2021 - Energy & Environment

The climate fight hits cities

Illustration of a weather thermometer shaped like a city building
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As world leaders meet in Glasgow at the United Nations climate summit — COP26 — to set the global agenda in the climate fight, cities are developing their own plans to stay resilient.

Why it matters: Cities are on the front lines of climate change, dealing with power outages, floods and fires — and they're often acting more swiftly than countries to combat the crisis.

  • "The hesitancy we’ve seen at the state and federal level has only made it more urgent for us to act at the local level," says Brian Platt, city manager of Kansas City, Missouri.

What's happening: Cities around the U.S. are developing ambitious plans to slash their carbon footprints. Now, tens of billions of dollars in funding for climate-related projects from the newly passed infrastructure bill could supercharge those plans:

  • Kansas City is considering building a solar farm half the size of Manhattan on a stretch of undeveloped land next to its airport.
    • The farm would be one of the biggest in the country — with a capacity of about 300 megawatts — and could power all city buildings plus many residences and private buildings, Platt says.
    • The city wants to cut its reliance on coal, which powered 70% of Missouri's electricity in 2020.
  • San Diego just put out a plan to improve its climate resilience, which includes planting more trees, building more parks in low-income neighborhoods (for relief from extreme heat) and updating public transit systems to withstand rusting from floods.
    • "When I was growing up, our schools didn’t have air conditioning, and now they do," San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria tells Axios. "We're uniquely experiencing climate change as a coastal city in California. ... We must act."
    • Speaking from Glasgow, Gloria reflected on the promise dangled by the infrastructure legislation: "I have been in politics for 20-plus years, and these are numbers that I’ve not seen before."
  • Austin wants to put dollars toward electrifying the city's vehicle fleet and cutting transportation emissions.
A rendering of what Kansas City's solar farm might look like when complete. Photo: City of Kansas City, Mo.

The big picture: Local action is essential, says Mark Muro of the Brookings Institution. According to a Brookings analysis, 45 of the U.S.'s 100 biggest metro areas have pledged to cut carbon emissions.

  • But 2 in 3 of those 45 cities are lagging in their efforts, often because they haven't had enough money to implement their plans.
  • Experts who study climate change are watching to see if funds from the infrastructure bill will moves cities closer to their goals.

The bottom line: "There are local efforts happening, but they’re few and far between relative to the urgency and the scale of climate change," says Joseph Kane of the Brookings Institution. "It’s going to require all hands on deck."

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