It's Not Too Late, But It's Not Too Soon

2014 is the year for cities to make climate change a top priority. The time is past for aspirational plans. Now the work of choosing and executing strategies that add up to large-scale carbon reduction must begin in earnest. In the Northwest and around the United States, we are seeing early signs that elected officials are responding to this call and starting down the path of hard work.

King County Elected Officials Unite to Reduce Carbon

Dow Constantine

Local leadership on climate action starts at the top, which is why we at New Energy Cities are so encouraged that King County Executive Dow Constantine has made climate change one of the top two priorities for his second term. In his State of the County remarks on February 10, Constantine acknowledged he was signing up the County for an ambitious agenda but noted that the only choice is to aim for a low-carbon future.

Read Eileen Quigley’s blog post, “King County Executive Laser-Focused on Climate Change and Equity.”

Three days later, thirteen King County cities came together at a summit hosted by Executive Constantine and Mercer Island Mayor Bruce Bassett, to consider a shared carbon reduction work program. Building on the work of the King County—Cities Climate Collaboration, and supported by New Energy Cities, participants heard that 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 (“80x2050”) is indeed possible, and learned about options for getting there. We anticipate more action from these forward-looking elected officials soon!

Climate Collaboration Meeting, King County

Pathways to Carbon Reduction

Although few cities have actually begun to make dramatic carbon reductions, the pathways are becoming clear. No better example of that is the work of Innovation Network for Communities (INC) and O-H Community Partners, who co-authored “The Road to 2050: ‘80 by 50’ Strategy Maps for Carbon-Neutral Cities,” offering detailed advice about meeting 80x2050 or carbon neutrality. (Find materials from Innovation Network for Communities here.)

Selecting the most leveraged strategies relies on good analysis, but it does not have to be rocket science. We know that the work must include:

Cities on the move

Roosevelt Island Tram in New York. Kirkland, Washington is considering air gondolas as an urban transit option.

The City of Kirkland, WA and Google co-hosted an advanced transportation symposium earlier this month to explore innovative options for one of the city's high-demand travel corridors. Although no commitments have been made, the City is reportedly considering air gondolas, a mode that has been popular in European cities. Kirkland is among the King County cities that set an 80x2050 community-wide carbon reduction goal.


For the first time, Washington, DC’s Department of General Services published energy and water performance benchmarking data from the District’s largest privately owned commercial and multifamily residential buildings. This information can help building owners, managers, market players, and policymakers identify consumption trends and savings opportunities. A growing number of cities around the country have mandatory energy benchmarking laws for large buildings, but at present only New York City and now DC have publicized their data.

Upcoming Events

  • March 6, 2014: Renewable Northwest Project will celebrate an important milestone, its 20th Anniversary, at the Vestas office in Portland.
  • March 13, 2014: The King County GreenTools’ 5th Anniversary Sustainable Cities Roundtable will reflect on the lessons and accomplishments of its first five years, and will offer an ecodistricts training for policymakers, urban designers, and community planners.
  • March 26-28, 2014: The GLOBE conference in Vancouver, BC is an international forum on long-term strategy for corporate environmental business that attracts over 3,100 participating organizations from 60 countries.
  • April 30, 2014: GoGreen Seattle is a “sustainability learning experience for business and government decision-makers,” intended to arm participants with ideas to green their organizations with profitable strategies.

Author Bio

Elizabeth Willmott

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.

Give for a brighter future

Did you enjoy this article?

Recent posts