Cities Climate Law: A Legal Framework for Local Action in the U.S.

By Amy E. Turner and Michael Burger, 

In the last several years, cities around the world have taken on a leading role in advancing policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the United States, dozens of cities have set goals targeting ambitious greenhouse gas emission reductions by a date certain (80% or “net zero” by 2050 are common formulations), and many more have pledged to achieve a 100% renewable or carbon-free energy supply.

Many U.S. cities are still determining the policies that would best achieve their climate commitments. In addition to political, financial, and technical considerations, these cities must consider how to structure their policies to comport with federal and state law. Given variable conditions and contexts, cities can’t simply “copy and paste” climate policies that have been successful elsewhere. They must consider the contours of their own legally
delegated authority.

Cities Climate Law: A Legal Framework for Local Action in the U.S. explores and explicates legal issues that might inhibit or enable policy adoption and implementation across a range of municipal carbon mitigation policy areas: Equity, Buildings, Transportation, Energy, and Waste.The report demystifies these sometimes knotty legal questions so that law- and policy-makers can craft informed, creative carbon mitigation policies that address local political and policy concerns while staying within legal bounds, reducing the risk that action will be undone by the courts.

U.S. cities are central to national efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help stave off the most dire impacts of climate change. And our cities have long pioneered pathbreaking carbon mitigation law and policy, and will continue to do so. While federal and state law pose distinctive legal challenges, they also provide unique opportunities for enterprising cities to continue to lead the way in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.