At the North American Climate Summit this month in Chicago, city officials from several countries recognized energy efficiency as an important emissions reduction strategy. Many described how they are making it part of their climate action plans.
The summit brought together mayors and other officials from 50-plus municipalities, including large cities like Austin and Phoenix and smaller communities like Pittsboro, North Carolina. Officials from the United States, Canada, Mexico, and other countries gathered to sign the Chicago Climate Charter and discuss strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Signatories of the Charter committed to several provisions, including decreasing their communities’ emissions by the same percentage as the reduction that their nations agreed to in the Paris Agreement.
Mayors discussed their cities’ methods for reducing emissions, such as increased recycling from the waste sector and greater reliance on renewable energy. They prominently cited energy efficiency. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pointed to the Retrofit Chicago Energy Challenge as a driving force behind Chicago’s 7% emissions reduction between 2010 and 2015. When accepting a C40 award for Retrofit Chicago, he said energy efficiency should be treated as an energy source, alongside other resource options.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett touted the Milwaukee Energy Efficiency program (Me2). “For a lot of regular people, when you talk about climate change, their response is, ‘What about the climate in my neighborhood?’ So we talk about how our energy efficiency programs help people save on their on energy bills, finance new systems like insulation and furnaces, and create local jobs,” said Mayor Barrett at the Summit. “Our Me2 home energy efficiency program and our comprehensive Better Buildings Challenge program for commercial buildings really demonstrate how energy efficiency can improve the value of buildings and help building owners be more profitable, while also reducing greenhouse gases and pollution at the community level.”
Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto described how his city’s District Energy Initiative plans to change energy generation. As part of the initiative, the city agreed to work with the US Department of Energy to expand the city’s district energy systems and microgrids. (Mayor Peduto discusses this in further detail at the 1-hour mark here.)
What did other mayors think about reducing energy waste? Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski touted the city’s recent building energy benchmarking ordinance at a session hosted by the City Energy Project. Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero touched on low-income weatherization and the importance of making energy efficiency opportunities available to all. Former San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who died this week, pointed to the importance of a sustainable transportation system that includes options for transit, biking, and walking.
City leaders at the Summit understood the prominent role energy efficiency can have in mitigating climate change impacts. Efficiency is a win-win for communities, helping households and businesses save on energy bills while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The next step for cities is taking action and holding themselves accountable. Initiatives including Retrofit Chicago and the Milwaukee Energy Efficiency Program indicate cities are moving forward. While our City Scorecard shows that cities have increased their energy efficiency efforts over the last two years, it also shows that cities can do a lot more to save energy. Based on the strong local leadership I saw at the Climate Summit, cities seem poised to take on the challenge.