Jake Elder is a member of the Bloomberg Associates Sustainability Practice, where he advises mayors and senior city officials on sustainability initiatives and translates policy into on-the-ground change. In his work, Jake helps cities leverage data analysis and stakeholder engagement to navigate the transition to clean energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Jake has extensive expertise in global public policy development and implementation, having advised over 50 public sector clients in Europe, North America, and Latin America. Jake currently leads a team of approximately six full-time equivalent resources in engagements across the USVI, Atlanta, Georgia, Nashville, Tennessee, London, UK, and Athens, Greece. He also supports selected Bloomberg Philanthropies Founder’s Projects at the nexus of public policy and climate change.
Jake Elder and John Sheff discuss sustainability, the kinds of goals cities should make, the challenges in implementing those changes, and provides real-world examples of cities that have had success. Jake also makes suggestions on easy and cost-effective ways cities can improve sustainability. The COVID-19 pandemic has added the motivation to make changes to improve health safety, many of which will also improve sustainability.
- Various governing bodies throughout the world, including cities, states, and countries, have been setting ambitious climate goals and commitments, but often have trouble fulfilling their promises.
- Nearly 2,000 cities have declared climate emergencies, set greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals, and/or adopting climate action plans.
- “Five years ago, these kinds of milestones would be unthinkable.” – Jake Elder
- Bloomberg Associates’ (BA) research shows that nearly 2/3 of cities either have climate plans or have begun adopting pilot programs, but only 22% of those cities reported implementing those projects city-wide basis.
- This research illustrates that cities want to make changes, but are struggling to implement the plans that they have made.
- Success rates improve slightly when the mayor is a “climate champion,” but they’re still less than 30%.
- Reasons municipalities struggle meeting climate goals:
- Forgetting “on-the-ground” strategies
- Incomplete plans that don’t account for transitions to execution
- To overcome shortcomings:
- Get stronger buy-ins from all parts of city government
- Provide better integration at all levels
- Tell a narrative around climate and sustainability that matters to residents
- The nature of the political process can incentivize leaders to think more in the short- or medium-term.
- “It’s really to make a long-term commitment when you know you’re not going to be around to bring it to fruition.” – Jake Elder
- For real change to happen, plans need to be put in place – and followed – that will last multiple administrations.
- This requires political leaders to provide funding for initiatives that they likely will not enjoy the benefits of.
- BA works to set up ongoing revenue streams and coalitions of support.
- Funding is the biggest challenge that cities face. After that, there are primarily, three obstacles that need to be overcome:
- lacking the capacity to move plans forward
- struggling to coordinate across different departments
- failing to build and maintain political support for change
- One way to build more support would be to focus less on making climate policy changes and focus more on making changes that will improve residents lives that also happen to be good for the environment.
- Many cities are adding sustainability departments and Chief Sustainability Officers, which is good, but that’s not enough. If these groups are the only leaders working towards sustainability, they will struggle to make a difference. Instead, sustainability should be done at every level in every department, with sustainability departments leading the way.
Examples of great sustainability policy execution:
- The former New York City (NYC) Transportation Commissioner implemented changes to add more transportation choices for residents and improve safety, which also reduced greenhouse gas emissions and increased the city’s overall sustainability.
- Oslo, Norway implemented a carbon budget: like a monetary budget, a carbon budget allots an amount of carbon for the entire city, to be segmented and used by all departments.
- The mayor of San Jose, California requires every department to report on how all projects affect carbon emissions.
- Milan, Italy has set the goal of carbon neutrality and has implemented several policies and incentives to see it happen. More than that, the mayor is working with neighboring cities to help them reach carbon neutrality.
- While carbon emissions are important, they are not all that helpful.
- It can take up to two years to collect enough data to be useful, and still, emissions data is abstract and hard to conceptualize.
- There are a lot of variables that affect emissions (e.g., mild winters, extra hot summers, natural disasters, etc.).
- It’s important for leaders to remember that they can’t do everything at once. Instead, it’s better to choose two or three things to focus on and do them well.
Jake’s tips to getting started with sustainability plans for cities:
- Implement a carbon budgeting model.
- Invest in public transportation.
- Adopt building performance standards.
- Bus rapid transit is a cost-effective way cities can invest in public transportation,
- Some challenges that need to be overcome:
- Removing the stigma of riding the bus
- Providing routes residents want and need
- Some challenges that need to be overcome:
- Building performance standards are very good
- Be mindful of loopholes.
- For example, NYC adopted standards requiring each building to lower emissions by 40% by 2030. Soon after, the state of New York adopted standards requiring utilities to provide cleaner electricity by 2030. Due to the state of New York’s initiative, many buildings won’t have to change a thing to meet the new standards.
- Alternatively, improving efficiency will lower emissions, regardless of any other changes.
- According to one analysis, in order to completely electrify NYC, the city would need to triple electricity production to meet future demand. This is yet another reason why improving efficiency is so key.“
The most cost-effective form of carbon-free energy is the energy that’s never generated in the first place.” – Jake Elder
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