Report: Cities’ climate efforts hindered by lagging transportation initiatives

© Shutterstock

A new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has found that most large U.S. cities have yet to put in place strong policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and are not on track to meet their climate goals, or have yet to set any.

ACEEE’s report, 2021 City Clean Energy Scorecard, ranked 100 major U.S. cities on their climate efforts, including reducing energy waste in homes and buildings and moving toward a cleaner power grid. The scorecard identifies the leading cities, the most improved cities, and the cities with ample room for progress.

“Most cities haven’t set a goal for reducing vehicle travel or transportation emissions, and of those that have, only a few show progress, so that points to a big area for improvement,” said Stefen Samarripas, local policy manager at ACEEE and lead author of the report. “From investments in transit to incentives for installing electric vehicle charging stations and zoning changes that allow dense, mixed-use development, cities have to use all their tools to support an affordable transportation system that works better for all while slashing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Coming out on top was San Francisco, for the first time in the six editions of the scorecard. Seattle came in second, with Washington, D.C., coming in third, Minneapolis coming in fourth, and Boston and New York tied for fifth.

The report found that San Francisco’s efforts, including a new program providing free home energy-saving kits for residents in areas that are economically disadvantaged and disproportionately burdened by multiple sources of pollution, as well as a new energy code for new residential and commercial buildings with requirements that will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, put the city on top. The city was also the top scorer on its transportation policies.

Cities were scored on their policies and programs – including those requiring large buildings to reduce energy waste or subsidize access to transit – and for their success in reducing their overall greenhouse gas emissions.

For the first time, ACEEE also assessed cities’ progress toward their climate goals for the transportation sector using a comprehensive review of their reported data. The report found that 25 cities had made progress toward their climate goals for the transportation sector. Of those, only three are on track to achieve them, with San Diego ranking the highest, achieving nearly 3 percent annual reduction in transportation greenhouse gas emissions since 2015. Seventeen cities could not provide the data needed to assess their progress.

The scorecard also found that cities’ most recent clean energy policy actions are mostly not focused on transportation. Of the 177 new city clean energy actions reported, only 23 were centered around transportation, the report said.

While the COVID-19 pandemic hindered some cities’ progress due to funding, staffing, and operational challenges, ACEE said federal assistance could help turn that around.

“COVID relief and infrastructure funds from Congress provide a big opportunity for all cities to step up their efforts,” said Samarripas. “Cities can invest in upgrading buildings to cut costly energy waste. They can invest in efficient transportation, including public transit, to help lower-income residents reduce their travel costs and protect the climate. The leading cities provide helpful models for those at much earlier stages of their efforts.”