Sabin Center Releases Report Providing Legal Tools for U.S. Cities to Act on Climate Change

November 18, 2021

Today, Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law published a new report, entitled Cities Climate Law: A Legal Framework for Local Action in the U.S. The report identifies legal issues that might inhibit or enable climate mitigation policy in five key areas: Equity, Buildings, Transportation, Energy, and Waste.

Over the 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 (e.g., “80-by-50” or “net zero” targets), and many more have pledged to achieve a 100% renewable or carbon-free energy supply. The Glasgow Climate Pact represents a step in the right direction, with countries strengthening the commitments they made under the Paris Agreement. But these pledges will need to be turned into action, especially at the local level.

The law can present obstacles to policy implementation, and it can provide the vehicle to success. Cities must consider how to structure their policies to comport with federal and state law. And given variable conditions and contexts, cities can’t simply “copy and paste” climate policies that have been successful elsewhere. They must consider the shape and extent of their own legally delegated authority.

The Cities Climate Law report demystifies these and other knotty legal questions so that law- and policy-makers can craft informed, creative carbon mitigation policies across that address local political and policy concerns while staying within legal bounds, reducing the risk that action will be undone by the courts. The report can be found here.