What I Learned at the U.S.-China Low-Carbon Cities Summit in Beijing

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As Pinecrest, Florida, Mayor Cindy Lerner notes, confronting climate issues and reducing carbon emissions requires global participation at the local level.

(Getty Images)
Through the U.S. State Department, cities like Beijing have signed collaborative agreements with American NGOs to expand green business and trade opportunities and enhance cooperation in areas such as climate-smart buildings, solar tech, and low-emissions transport. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Pinecrest, Florida, Mayor Cindy Lerner.

Last year, I was invited to be a member of the U.S. Compact of Mayors delegation to the first U.S.-China Climate Leaders Summit, held in Los Angeles. The invitation from the White House was based on my leadership in the National League of Cities as the Chair of the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. The 2015 Summit hosted 30 U.S. mayors and dozens of city leaders from China, each of whom presented on local efforts to reduce carbon emissions by advancing energy efficiencies, investing in renewable energy, and expanding transit in our cities. And it was remarkable to learn of the dozens of projects going on in cities throughout China that relied on renewable energy and focused on significantly reducing carbon emissions.

This year, the Chinese reciprocated by hosting the 2016 U.S.-China Climate-Smart / Low-Carbon Cities Summit in Beijing. I attended as one of a dozen U.S. mayors, with Bloomberg Philanthropies underwriting the costs of our travel and participation. Also at the summit were leaders from 49 Chinese cities and provinces as well as Secretary of State John Kerry, Deputy Secretary of Energy Elizabeth Sherwood Randall, a number of representatives from the State Department, and many NGO groups from the United States whose main mission is to advance clean energy. The Summit was an opportunity for U.S. and Chinese city leaders to exchange best practices on climate issues and support public-private partnerships to develop climate solutions.

Deputy Secretary Randall was a keynote speaker, and she recognized that cities and local leaders are leading the way as incubators for developing solutions. She also noted that cities are responsible for 70 percent of carbon emissions, so city leaders feel a fierce urgency to address these challenges. She announced that the U.S. government has made a commitment to double the national investment in clean energy by $12.8 billion a year to develop clean technologies, and is partnering with private investment firms, led by Bill Gates, to mobilize private industry.

Mayors from China and the United States gather at the
City leaders gather at the U.S.-China Climate-Smart / Low-Carbon Cities Summit in Beijing.

Secretary of State Kerry spoke about the significant partnership he has built with the Chinese Minister in charge of climate change and the collaborative nature of their shared commitments to advance clean energy throughout both countries. And U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baccus concluded the Summit by sharing that climate change and carbon reduction has been a significant component of the work going on between the two countries.

Mayors from great cities like Phoenix, Berkley, California, Boston, New York and Portland are all making significant investments in transit and clean energy, and have established ambitious goals to be carbon neutral by 2050. We also heard from many Chinese mayors who are piloting new clean and renewable energy programs and setting goals to significantly reduce carbon emissions and promote flexibility to adapt to climate change. Through the U.S. State Department, many mega-cities in China have signed collaborative agreements with many of the NGOs currently working in U.S. to provide technical resources and help monitor progress.

I learned that these ambitious efforts to address carbon reduction exist at the highest levels of government on a global scale – and that, at the same time, all of these efforts rely on the most local levels of government to ensure that real change takes place from the ground up. I also learned that it is up to each one of us – elected officials, community leaders, and business executives alike – to make commitments to decarbonize our cities, counties, states and, ultimately, our nations.

About the Author: Mayor Cindy Lerner has been mayor of Pinecrest, Florida, since 2008, and previously served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2000 to 2002, when her district was eliminated due to redistricting. She chaired the NLC Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee in 2015 and was President of the Miami-Dade County League of Cities in 2014.