F&ESers Find City Climate Action Plans Are Missing an Important Piece

F&ESers Find City Climate Action Plans Are Missing an Important Piece

An F&ES student and recent alum recently published an article in The Nature of Cities, based on research done at Yale as part of the COP21 Fellowship. The research, by Emily Wier ’17 M.E.M. and Alisa Zomer ’14 M.E.M., found that even though cities pledge to reduce emissions and fight climate change, the commitments don’t measure up.

Some cities are getting it right. After Oakland’s Energy and Climate Change Action Plan was implemented in 2012, the city’s transportation emissions decreased slightly. Other cities that integrated transportation and land use planning in their climate plans, including Atlanta, Georgia and Columbus, Ohio, also reduced their transportation emissions.

Other cities are not doing as well. Transport-related emissions increased by around 18 percent in Boulder, Colorado and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania after they implemented their climate plans. These cities did not integrate transportation and land use, and instead implemented measures to reduce emissions solely associated with vehicle transportation. Boulder and Pittsburgh adopted policies to support hybrid vehicles, alternative fuel use, and an increase in bike lanes and associated infrastructure. But these measures alone are not enough to shift the city toward a low-carbon transportation pathway because of the exclusion of land use measures.

The transport sector makes up nearly one-third of urban emissions, a factor influenced by distances traveled and modes of travel. Cities that fail to incorporate policies to create more compact and dense cities actually see an increase in transport-related emissions. The research highlights the importance of land use planning in city climate action plans, and explores the gaps and policy opportunities to improve decision making.

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