It's Really about Cities

While the West Coast climate pact announced by Governors Inslee, Kitzhaber, and Brown and British Columbia Premier Clark on October 28 focused on state policy, it has everything to do with cities.

Cities are responsible for 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and local governments set policies for the building and transportation sectors, which represent the lion’s share—approximately three-quarters— of US greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, by our count, metropolitan areas make up over 80 percent of the West Coast population of the United States and British Columbia combined. In sum, cities are critical partners for implementing any meaningful plan to reduce West Coast emissions.

The good news is that city governments—especially on the West Coast—have already started to decarbonize. From south to north:

  • Los Angeles is a member of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and earlier this year decided to phase out coal from its fuel mix.
  • San Francisco has a robust city-utility partnership, SF Energy Watch, which offers energy efficiency services and financial incentives that help reduce residential and commercial energy costs.
  • In 1993, Portland was the first American city to adopt a GHG reduction plan, and actually reduced its GHG emissions 6 percent below 1990 levels as of 2012.
  • Seattle has committed to carbon neutrality by 2050 and has developed a plan to get there. Seattle also recently adopted a groundbreaking new energy code that lays the foundation for future net-zero energy buildings.
  • Vancouver, BC aspires to be “the greenest city in the world” with the implementation of its Greenest City 2020 Action Plan.

These efforts are more than just plans:  Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco all ranked within the top five of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s inaugural U.S. city energy efficiency scorecard.

Small and medium-sized cities up and down the coast are keeping pace. Some excellent examples include:

  • Lancaster, CA, which recently issued a requirement that most new homes built in the community produce solar power, based on Republican Mayor Rex Parris’ vision of making the city “the solar energy capital of the world.”
  • Beaverton, OR, which is leading the development of a 433 kW solar system at its reservoir, anticipated to be one of the largest such projects in the country.
  • Eugene and Hillsboro, OR, featured in New Energy Cities’ July 2012 Powering the New Energy Future from the Ground Up report.
  • Issaquah, WA, which has pioneered high-performance and net zero buildings with its super-efficient fire station and zHome townhome development.
  • King County—Cities Climate Collaboration, a coalition of nine cities working together to meet ambitious GHG reduction goals.
  • Bellingham, WA, also featured in our July 2012 report, which has partnered with Whatcom County, Sustainable Connections, and the Opportunity Council on the Community Energy Challenge.

The details of a regional West Coast climate collaboration are still in development, but one thing is clear: cities continue to lead the way, and must be at the table.

Elizabeth Willmott's picture

former New Energy Cities Program Manager

, Climate Solutions

Elizabeth served Climate Solutions as program manager for the New Energy Cities program, working with cities to help them meet their carbon reduction goals through innovative programs and policies. She most recently authored The Urban Clean Energy Revolution, a detailed compendium of urban climate solutions worldwide (also published in segments as the Low-Carbon Cities blog series), and Breaking Down Barriers to Deep Energy Efficiency in King County, a briefing paper on how to overcome obstacles to deep home energy efficiency. She also co-authored Powering the New Energy Future from the Ground Up, a July 2012 report on small and medium-sized cities around the U.S. that are demonstrating leadership in local clean energy innovation.

Elizabeth knows and loves local government. As lead author of the World Bank’s 2011 climate change adaptation guide for cities in developing countries, co-author of King County’s 2007 adaptation guidebook with ICLEI and the University of Washington, climate change aide to former King County Executive Ron Sims, and project manager of the first King County Climate Plan in 2007, Elizabeth brings a deep and wide background in community climate planning to the New Energy Cities team.

The program’s focus on "carbon math" also bears Elizabeth’s signature. She first found religion in Excel spreadsheets as the Recovery Act performance and accountability lead for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, overseeing the results of $13.6 billion in grants to cities and communities around the U.S.  Today her data-driven approach is most obvious in New Energy Cities’ energy maps and carbon wedge graphics.

Outside of work Elizabeth leaves ample time for gardening, biking, and movie-watching with her husband Andy. She holds a double degree in biology and Chinese language from Williams College and a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard Kennedy School.