Republican Mayors Take Action on Climate. Just Don’t Call It Climate Action.
Fearful of a backlash from conservative talk show hosts and other climate deniers, most Republican mayors in the United States aren’t into “group photos at climate change summits,” Grist reports. But many of them are still quietly pursuing climate action at the behest of their constituents, according to a recent report.
While “large-city Republican mayors shy away from climate network memberships and their associated framing of the problem,” many of them “advocate locally for policies that help advance climate goals for other reasons, such as fiscal responsibility and public health,” writes study co-author and environmental policy analyst Nicolas Gunkel from the Boston University Initiative on Cities.
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In a systematic review of the cities that belong to 10 prominent city climate networks, the study determined that communities led by Democratic mayors are more than four times as likely to participate in at least one. “Joining these networks sends a very public signal to constituents about the importance of safeguarding the environment, transitioning to cleaner forms of energy, and addressing climate change,” Gunkel writes. And some of them “require cities to plan for or implement specific greenhouse gas reduction targets and report on their progress, which means that mayors can be held accountable.”
But many mayors who are gun-shy on the optics of climate action in an “increasingly polarized” news environment are nonetheless making serious efforts to reduce their cities’ carbon footprints, “although they are not primarily framed that way,” Gunkel writes.
In 15 of the 29 largest Republican-led cities in the U.S., mayors have “cast targets for achieving energy savings and curbing local air pollution as part of their master plans,” and their “agendas often evoke images of disrupted ecosystems that need to be conserved, or that endanger human health and quality of life.” Some of these administrations “also spotlight cost savings from designing infrastructure to cope with more extreme weather events.”
That’s partly because constituents in these cities actually signal strong support for key climate policies. After cross-referencing with data from the Yale Climate Opinion maps, Gunkel found that “in all of the 10 largest U.S. cities that have Republican mayors and also voted Republican in the 2008 presidential election, county-level polling data showed majority support” for regulating CO2 as a pollutant and therefore “imposing strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants.” Polling also showed strong support for funding renewable energy research, and for mandating utilities to produce 20% of their electricity from renewable sources.
Only seven of the 15 cities with Republican mayors committed to “under the radar” climate action have developed the kind of quantitative GHG reduction targets that can attend membership in a climate network. But even so, Gunkel concludes, “the real measure of Republican mayors taking action on climate change is not the number of networks they join but the policy steps they take, often quietly, at home.” And on that score, “the United States is making progress on this issue in some surprising places.”