When Countries Fail at Environmental Policy, Cities Step In

A lot of the world’s major countries are disappointingly slow when it comes to adopting the changes necessary to limit devastating carbon emissions. Fortunately, there are other entities that seem willing to pick up these nations’ slack: the world’s major cities!

No joke, it’s the large cities – often cities nestled inside of these inefficacious countries – that are taking on the heavy lifting for the time being. Over 2,500 cities have submitted detailed plans to the United Nations on how they plan to reduce their carbon footprints, and most of these plans go head and shoulders above what the countries are willing to pledge.

Cities are certainly a good place to start, anyway. After all, urban areas are the source of 70 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, greater than fifty percent of the global population resides in cities. By 2050, that statistic is predicted to hit 70 percent. That means that the true success of climate change measures could very well come at the municipal level.

Because cities pack in so many people to a relatively small amount of geographic space, policy changes can have the most impact there. Not to mention that the money spent on green projects in cities will end up being utilized by the most people, giving them more bang for their buck.

From a practical standpoint, as compared to federal politics, there also seems to be a lot less bureaucracy on the municipal level. Change can be implemented faster and with fewer hurdles. It certainly doesn’t hurt that urban governments tend to have more leftist politics than nationwide bodies do, which more often align with green causes.

Those of us in the United States may not be surprised to see that some of our cities are tackling climate change more aggressively than the federal government, but that trend is happening internationally, as well. Reuters points to two major cities going above and beyond:


Norway may be run by far-right leaders who don’t prioritize environmental concerns, yet that’s not stopping the capital city – with leftist elected officials – from pushing some of the world’s most ambitious climate measures in the world.

Oslo has given itself four years to halve its greenhouse emissions. On top of that, it’s using carbon capture technology, increasing road tolls to discourage driving and even banning cars altogether from certain sections of the cities. The people of Oslo seem pretty happy with these steps – the air is cleaner and the public transportation system is efficient.


Sydney’s investments in solar technology have started paying off big time both in terms of power production and savings – so much so that the Australian government is putting up protest over the city’s lack of reliance on the national power grid.

“I wish national governments would take notice of the work [cities] are doing,” said Sydney Mayor Clever Moore. “We’re their best allies. Work with us, and we can help you keep global warming below 2° Celsius. But if you don’t want to work with us, don’t be an impediment.”

Moore is right – it’s not always smooth sailing for these cities when local goals conflict with federal laws that turn out to be bad for the environment.

Still, this news should be encouragement for eco-activists who find their national leaders incapable/unwilling to take the steps necessary to safeguard the environment. Set your sights smaller and organize locally. City officials might well be amenable to passing the kind of reforms that divided federal legislators never would!

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie W1 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Maria R
Past Member 1 years ago

thanks for this

heather g
heather g2 years ago

Municipal councils are more accessible, so locals have a greater say because of easier access to decision makers. Unfortunately, provincial and federal governments can overrule local decisions. With enough digging around one can uncover contentious issues like funding of a political party - especially contentious because locals were opposed to a major development which was then passed.

Philippa P
Philippa Powers2 years ago


william Miller
william Miller2 years ago


Colin Clauscen
Colin C2 years ago

Good article

Anne M
Anne M2 years ago

Sometimes, it takes a city...

Mariana L
Mariana L2 years ago

Thank you

chris b
chris B2 years ago

From the latest 'Trump Budget' news, we're all going to have to work harder towards saving our environment. ;-(

Naomi D
Naomi D2 years ago

AND it starts with ME.