While much of the fanfare at COP26 has revolved around national commitments from world leaders, mayors have shown up to signal that cities are ready to make progress on fighting climate change.
Kate Gallego, mayor of Phoenix, Ariz., was one of those leaders present at the major climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, hoping to swap solutions with other mayors, nonprofits, and business leaders that will benefit her city's 1.6 million residents.
“Right now, cities are leading the way,” Gallego said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “We'll find out more about national commitments and international collaboration as the meeting goes on. But we're proud that cities really started with momentum.”
Now, with the U.S. back in the Agreement and President Biden setting a national goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, cities are doubling down on climate resilience efforts for America's most populous regions.
For instance, last Tuesday, 1049 cities committed to halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Gallego said that Phoenix's goal was to reach net zero by 2050, but that the city established other goals in the interim.
“I'm part of a group called C40 Cities that found that by investments in energy efficiency, retrofit of existing buildings, and improvements in our transportation system, cities can — just in some measures that are already proven — cut our carbon by half,” Gallego said. “So that would get the United States a little over 50% of the way to meeting our national goal and help Phoenix do our part for carbon.”
“I think it is important to act soon and not to wait,” Gallego added. “So I find the sense of urgency healthy. And it's motivating to us.”
Climate resilience: 'People want to feel tangible differences'
Like many cities, Phoenix faces a future rife with climate impacts — particularly when it comes to extreme heat, which is the deadliest climate hazard in the United States, according to the National Weather Service.
Gallego laid out the city's plans to not only reduce emissions but also help its residents adapt to rising temperatures.
“In Phoenix, we're doing everything from investments in a more walkable city and building out our light rail transit system to cool pavements, which is a cooler colored technology that Arizona State University has found cools our pavements about 10 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit,” Gallego said.
The cool pavement program, in particular, was an emerging technology that Gallego was proud to have piloted. When in direct sunlight, pavement can reach 120 to 150 degrees and can contribute to heat islands in cities, according to the EPA.
“When we found that the cool pavement program was working, everyone started saying 'we want it in our neighborhood, or we want it at our nonprofit,'” Gallego said. “And I like that people want to feel tangible differences.”
Now, Gallego is looking for other opportunities to bring Phoenix into a just green transition.
“Phoenix is newer to green finance,” Gallego said. “We just did our first green bond issuance. And it was oversubscribed many times. So we are eager to continue to grow and invest in this space, and it seems like the business community is there to meet us.”
Initially drawn to public office because of her own experience in childhood with poor air quality, Gallego said she now looks to her child and youth activists for inspiration.
“I still feel like I'm one of the younger folks involved in this and hope to be part of that,” she said. “And the energy in Glasgow is very much around younger climate activists. They seem to be sort of the heart and the motivation of what's happening so far, at least among cities.”
Gallego also emphasized the reach of local actions and said it's incumbent upon everyone to make changes in their community.
“For people who are feeling concerned right now, you can go out and invest in tree cover with the city or on your own," she said. "You can change the decisions you make or just look at for whom you are voting in upcoming opportunities. So my message is that we each can do our part. And hopefully, the global community will step up as well.”
Grace is an assistant editor for Yahoo Finance.