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Expand chart
Reproduced from a Brookings Institution report; Chart: Axios Visuals

A just-published Brookings Institution analysis of U.S. cities' pledges to cut carbon emissions reveals very mixed results.

Why it matters: The potential — and limits — of city and state initiatives have gotten more attention amid President Trump's scuttling of Obama-era national policies.

The big picture: It finds "laudable aspirations, notable GHG reductions in some cases, and less auspicious outcomes in most other cities."

The state of play: The authors undertook the difficult task of comparing cities' emissions-cutting vows and progress toward meeting them.

  • Plans have varying baseline years, targets and so forth, and the analysis also has to grapple with what might happen in the absence of the plans.
  • There's also a time-lag in getting information, but that map above is close to the current state of play, Brookings analyst Mark Muro said.

Where it stands: Among the 100 most populous U.S. cities, only 45 have both emissions-cutting targets and a detailed emissions tally — or "inventory" — to gauge them against.

  • Seventeen of those 45 have rolled out new or upgraded plans since Trump took office.
  • These cities' pledges often align with the goal of cutting emissions by 80% by 2050.
  • That's aggressive but falls short of what's needed globally to hold warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels, the study notes.
  • Another 22 of these 100 cities have vowed emissions cuts but lack specific targets or completed inventories.

By the numbers: If the 45 cities with plans and baseline data successfully follow through, it would cut emissions by an estimated 365 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent annually by 2050.

  • That's the equivalent of taking 79 million passenger vehicles off the roads, the report states.
  • Viewed another way, that "translates to roughly 6% of total U.S. GHG emissions in 2017," it finds.
  • That's "not insignificant," but also far from the net-zero by 2050 levels consistent with the very ambitious 1.5°C goal.

Threat level: Lots of cities are falling behind on their pledges.

  • Of 32 cities that conducted new inventories since 2010, 26 have cut emissions compared to baseline levels, led by L.A.'s 47% cut below 1990 levels. Six have seen increases, led by Tucson, Arizona's growth.
  • "Overall, about two-thirds of cities are currently lagging their targeted emission levels." On average, cities analyzed would need to cut emissions by 64% by 2050 to meet their goals.

What's next: The report offers ways to bolster and expand city initiatives.Two examples: More philanthropic help for small and midsized cities; and more big-city efforts to decarbonize power generated outside their borders by working with surrounding communities, regional governments and other stakeholders.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Nov 24, 2020 - Energy & Environment

The oil sector's new methane pledge

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Dozens of oil-and-gas companies — including the big ones like BP, Shell and Total — are pledging to provide more detailed information about their methane emissions.

Why it matters: Methane is a very strong planet-warming gas and atmospheric concentrations keep rising, as new World Meteorological Organization data shows. Releases or leaks from oil-and-gas well sites, pipeline and other infrastructure are a key source.

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Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes on the Senate runoffs

The future of U.S. politics, and all that flows from it, is in the hands of Georgia voters when they vote in two Senate runoffs on January 5.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the election dynamics with former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat who served between 1999 and 2003.

2 hours ago - Health

Cuomo orders emergency hospital protocols as COVID capacity dwindles

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Monday that struggling state hospital systems must transfer patients to sites that are not nearing capacity, as rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations strain medical resources.

Why it matters: New York does not expect to get the same kind of help from thousands of out-of-state doctors and nurses that it got this spring, Cuomo acknowledged, as most of the country battles skyrocketing COVID hospitalizations and infections.