Energy Policy

Local Initiatives


Local Governments Solving A Global Problem

While we tend to think of climate change as a global problem, the solutions are often highly localized in nature. Therefore, it makes sense that local governments take action to reduce emissions and develop sustainable energy solutions. To an even larger extent than state governments, local scale climate change mitigation efforts offer supreme flexibility for creating solutions tailored specifically to local circumstance. Whether it's an old coal mining town in the northeast hoping to revitalize its economy with newer energy technologies or a farm town in the Midwest seeking additional revenue sources for its small-scale agricultural producers, local action empowers people because they are able to feel more connected to what is happening.

And the story of local action has never been more important than it is right now. Early local action efforts rose out of dissatisfaction with the US decision not to actively participate in the Kyoto Protocol almost 20 years ago now. Local municipalities and states filled the void left by a lack of federal leadership on climate change. During the Obama presidency, that void filled in a bit with hallmark achievements, including the Clean Power Plan and the ratification of the Paris Agreement. Then U.S. again found itself lacking federal leadership on climate action during the Trump Administration and states, municipalities, and private businesses all recognizing that there's simply no time to waste are stepping up to fill the void again. And of course, federal support is a reality again with the Biden Administration. This umnfortunate game of political football has on the one hand stunted aggressive national policies but on the other hand has motivated states and localities to take their own inititiatives.

  • Notably, the We Are Still In campaign is a pledge of American businesses, non-profits, universities, and municipalities who remained committed to achieving the reductions outlined in the Paris Agreement no matter what is happening at the federal level.
  • The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy is a worldwide alliance of more than 7,500 cities and towns committed to climate action and provides resources for both inventorying emissions and enacting climate action plans to reduce them.
  • The US EPA's Local Climate and Energy Program helps local governments around the country reduce emissions and meet other sustainability goals through training and competitive grants. Check out their website to learn more about what's going on where you live (perhaps you'd like to discuss this with your classmates).
  • The International Council for Local Environment Initiatives (ICLEI) has been around since 1990. Their climate program is but one of many sustainability-driven initiatives the Council runs. Their Climate Program is structured into 3 areas - Mitigation, Adaptation, and Advocacy - recognizing that all parts are necessary if we're to address the totality of the problem. Specifically, their Cities for Climate Protection campaign has gained notoriety for drawing more than 1,000 members from local governments all over the world. ICLEI members can draw on an extensive network of in-house research, training programs, and the support of other members as they devise strategies for handling climate policy at their local government level. Signatories to the Global Covenant are able to access ICLEI's ClearPath software for free to conduct local GHG inventories.
  • The Urban Sustainability Directors' Network joins together folks working on sustainability issues in towns and cities across the country. This focused group allows them to share ideas and best practices about programs and approaches which work.

What about your community? What's going on there? If not, maybe it's time for you to change that! You could start by revieweing some of the resources above, which provide a wealth of suggestions and models, as well as best practices. It only takes one person to get something going, especially at the local level!