LONDON, March 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - U.S.
President Donald Trump may not consider action on climate change
a priority, but his newly adopted city has different ideas.
In 2015, Washington D.C. signed a 20-year deal to get 35
percent of the electricity needed to power government buildings
from a Pennsylvania wind farm – the largest wind power deal ever
signed by a U.S. city.
It has since signed another 20-year agreement to buy solar
power from a company that is installing solar panels on roofs
and on parking lots in the city.
And it's passed a law to help ensure that the benefits of
solar power expansion reach the poor, the elderly and young
people in need of jobs as well as wealthier business and
Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has run Washington D.C. since early
2015, says that in the face of federal backpedaling on climate
change action, U.S. cities are stepping forward – and saving
money in the process.
"We know in cities we can use our procurement power, our
power in building codes and our bully pulpit to say we must
fight climate change. And there are some very real effects on
our bottom line," she said in a telephone interview with the
Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The wind deal, for instance, will lock in power rates for
Washington for the next 20 years, saving taxpayers an estimated
$45 million, she said. The solar deal is expected to save $25
million over the same period.
"We regard our role as being at the forefront of moving
climate change policy and fighting climate change," said Bowser,
44. "More than ever when federal policies are uncertain, we know
cities can get a lot accomplished – and influence national
Around the world, cities are increasingly at the forefront
of action to curb climate change. Some have set ambitious
emissions reduction goals, while others have pushed ahead with
policies despite national-level foot dragging.
Increasingly, many of the cities pushing green energy and
other climate change action – including Paris, Cape Town and
Sydney – are run by women.
In two years, the number of women leading large cities at
the forefront of climate action has risen from 4 to 16,
according to the C40 Cities network of cities committed to
addressing climate change, which is organising a conference for
women leaders in New York this week.
Bowser says there's good reason for women – and cities such
as Washington, with large numbers of African-American residents
– to take climate change risks personally.
"We know the effects of climate change around the world have
a disproportionate impact on women, people of colour and people
with lower incomes," she said.
FEELING THE HEAT
The city is already – literally – feeling the heat of
climate change. Summers are growing increasingly sweltering in
the already humid city, she said, and more unpredictable
weather, including warm spring-like days in February followed by
blizzards, threaten the city's famous spring cherry blossoms, a
major tourist draw and income earner.
"Past winters and summers are great examples of how volatile
our climate is," the mayor said. "While people might enjoy a
70-degree (21-degree Celsius) day in February, we know what it
portends for our earth. It's a constant reminder when we have
these wild fluctuations in temperature."
The city is doing what it can to fight back. In November, it
put in place a resilience plan to help it assess, prepare for
and deal with expected threats such as worsening heatwaves, more
severe storms and flooding.
The plan considers what areas of the city are most
flood-prone, for example, and what to do if services such as
police, fire or the Metrorail mass transit system were hit, as
well as looking at where neighbourhoods with large numbers of
poor or unemployed people might struggle to afford air
conditioning to battle heatwaves.
Bowser is also also pushing this year to incorporate green
procurement practices across city government. "The government
buys a lot of services and materials, so we can drive a lot of
innovation," she said.
Getting green energy to the poor – as well as the rich – is
another priority. A fee on energy bills across the city now
funds home retrofits for energy efficiency and helps
lower-income families and apartment buildings get access to
solar energy, she said.
And the mayor is now trying to host "zero waste" city events
where throw-away items, such as paper plates, paper tablecloths
and disposable water bottles, are eliminated.
"That demonstrates to people that you don't have to create a
lot of trash when you organise an event," she said.
While Washington D.C. is pressing ahead on dealing with
climate change despite changing priorities in the White House,
some of the federal changes present risks, Bowser acknowledged.
A share of the city's funding for clean energy programmes
for low-income residents, for example, comes from the federal
Department of Energy, and potentially could be withdrawn.
She said the nation's capital city will look for ways to
protect as much funding as it can, and push ahead with climate
"Making the city more resilient is how we will truly deal
with climate change," the mayor said.
(Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; editing by Zoe
Tabary.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking
and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate)