Reflections on the U.S.-China Climate-Smart/Low Carbon Cities Summit

The active support of local governments is critical to achieving success in confronting global issues such as climate change. Subnational leaders are in a position to develop and implement policies with a direct and immediate impact on citizens’ lives because of their position on the front lines. Given this reality, more local leaders are convening internationally to collaborate on today’s salient challenges with an eye toward a better future.

It was with this outlook that subnational leaders from the United States and China recently gathered in Beijing for the second U.S.-China Climate-Smart/Low Carbon Cities SummitMore than 1,000 people attended the 2016 Cities Summit, including leaders from 49 Chinese cities and provinces. As Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, I had the privilege of coordinating the participation of nearly 20 U.S. cities -- which included 13 mayors -- and accompanying the delegation in Beijing. 

The Summit was an opportunity for U.S. and Chinese subnational leaders to exchange best practices on climate issues and support the creation of public-private alliances to innovate climate solutions. More broadly, the Cities Summit aimed to implement the U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change made by President Obama and President Xi in 2014, as well as last year’s Paris Agreement. 

“Mayors and other urban leaders have contributed enormously to the progress that we’ve begun to make in combating climate change,” said Secretary of State John Kerry in his keynote address at the Summit. “The fact is, if we are going to live up to the Paris Agreement and accelerate the transition to a low carbon future, we have to start with our cities.”

Given the myriad of potential threats imposed by climate change, it was encouraging to see so many positive outcomes from the 2016 Cities Summit, particularly in the arena of public-private partnerships. A few highlights of these initiatives that will benefit local U.S. economies coast to coast include:

  • An arrangement between Los Angeles and Lanzhou to enhance cooperation in areas such as clean energy, low-carbon transport and climate-smart buildings.               
  • A partnership between the Utah Sustainability Commission and the China Minsheng New Energy Corporation to identify business opportunities in areas such as micro grid and solar technology development.
  • New partnerships between the City of Philadelphia Commerce Department, China Partnership of Greater Philadelphia and Greater Waukegan Development Coalition with the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area to expand green business and trade opportunities in the U.S. and China.

These partnerships and other joints efforts are needed now more than ever. As Secretary Kerry further outlined in his keynote address, urban centers are a growing target for climate change impact. Ninety percent of cities are situated along inland or coastal waterways, putting them at risk to rising sea levels. Cities generate 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. And by 2050, it is projected that two out of three people will live in a city.

It is clear cities can play an integral role in turning the tide of climate change. Cities across the U.S., China and elsewhere are increasingly leading efforts to mobilize local innovators, working with national governments, and influencing international strategies. This was evident in the indispensable role of subnational leaders who encouraged federal officials to set a meaningful national target and to approve the Paris Agreement.

At the Summit, Secretary Kerry announced that the 2017 U.S.-China Climate-Smart/Low Carbon Cities Summit will travel to the United States, where his hometown of Boston, Massachusetts will play host. Looking ahead, the forecast for the Cities Summit is bright. I'm optimistic that the momentum from Beijing will not be lost. To that end, the United States remains committed to reaffirming the role of subnational leaders and cities around the world as partners in addressing climate change as well as a host of other global challenges.

About the Author: Karen Richardson serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Outreach in the Bureau of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

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muhammad m.
June 24, 2016
Secretary Kerry and Chinese Vice Premier Yang pose for a photo with U.S. and Chinese Mayors at the U.S.-China Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities Summit in Beijing
Posted by Karen Richardson
June 22, 2016


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