Momentum for Climate Action

The past five years have brought a sea change in urban climate action: increased awareness of the critical role that local leaders play in carbon reduction; new capacity in local governments to tackle climate change; and a sharper focus on strategies that advance energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean transportation.

Notably, the city climate movement was critical in generating momentum to pass an ambitious climate compact in Paris. As Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Christiana Figueres said, “The Paris Agreement… sends a powerful signal to the many thousands of cities, regions, businesses, and citizens across the world already committed to climate action that their vision of a low-carbon, resilient future is now the chosen course for humanity this century.”

In the next 15 years, cities will be equally mission-critical in implementing the Paris accord. We know the ingredients to make this happen:

Transformation of the energy sector, through partnership with utilities and national and state government agencies. Tokyo and seven Chinese jurisdictions pioneered urban systems that cap and price carbon emissions. Cities from San Francisco to Sydney are taking the reins on clean energy transition planning. New York State, California, and Chicago are leading the charge to modernize the electricity grid and energy regulations. A clean grid will also enable another critical climate solution, electrified transportation.

New funding sources and financial tools. From Boulder, CO’s carbon tax and Johannesburg, South Africa’s green bonds to London’s Green Finance Initiative, cities are trying to raise the funds necessary to execute bold climate strategies. This need is not lost on the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate—a group of national finance ministers, former heads of state, and leading global economists—who called in 2015 for international financial institutions to develop a package of $1 billion over five years to support the world’s 500 largest cities in reducing climate pollution and building urban resilience. 

Inclusion and participation of underrepresented communities in climate and energy decision-making. In March 2016, Got Green and Puget Sound Sage issued a call for climate justice, to involve communities of color and low-income communities at the front and center of climate and clean energy planning. On Earth Day 2016, Seattle announced its equity and environment action agenda, a model for other cities worldwide. Indeed, for climate solutions to be durable, they must be practical, profitable, and equitable.

As our Bright Future project demonstrates, and our December 2015 report The Urban Clean Energy Revolution describes, nowhere is the momentum for this transition more evident than in our cities.

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.

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