City Climate Corner

ICLEI and the Race to Zero (Carbon)

Episode Summary

ICLEI, Local Governments for Sustainability, has been helping local governments with climate action for three decades. Learn how they're evolving with some exciting new tools, cohorts, and programs. And hear how the Race to Zero is showing cities that it's possible to cut carbon emissions 60% in 8 years. We interview Executive Director Angie Fyfe, Sr. Program Officer Kale Roberts, and Zero Carbon Cities Advisor Josh Radoff.

Episode Notes

ICLEI, Local Governments for Sustainability, has been helping local governments with climate action for three decades. Learn how they're evolving with some exciting new tools, cohorts, and programs. And hear how the Race to Zero is showing cities that it's possible to cut carbon emissions 60% in 8 years. We interview Executive Director Angie Fyfe, Sr. Program Officer Kale Roberts, and Zero Carbon Cities Advisor Josh Radoff.


Episode Transcription


Abby Finis  00:02

Cities produce more than sixty percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Big cities get a lot of attention, but most household emissions in the US actually come from communities outside urban cores, making them critical players in climate mitigation and climate justice. City Climate Corner explores how these small and mid-sized cities are tackling climate change and moving toward an equitable and sustainable future.  I'm Abby Finis.

Larry Kraft  00:23

And, I'm Larry Kraft. We're co-hosts for City Climate Corner. Hey, Abby. 

Abby Finis  00:30

Hey, Larry. 

Larry Kraft  00:32

So our first episode after the holiday break. How was your break?

Abby Finis  00:36

Well, it did not go as planned. I was supposed to go visit my brother in Spain and spend some time there. I was originally actually going to spend six weeks in Europe and go around to different cities and talk to them about what they're doing successfully on urban climate solutions.

Larry Kraft  00:57

We were even considering an international episode or two weren't we?

Abby Finis  01:01

We will still, there will be a time. But, due to COVID I scaled that back and was just going to go visit my brother. And, then he tested positive just before we were supposed to go out there, so that also got canceled. I have been here doing the same thing day in and day out. Groundhog Day for the last two years. Like everybody else. 

Larry Kraft  01:21

Oh ouch. We got to go to Florida, we're able to make the trip for an extended family holiday. It was wonderful to be down and spend time with family that we haven't spent a lot of time with over the past couple years. But you know, we got back and there's COVID happening within some of the family that we saw.

Abby Finis  01:46

Omicron has really taken over I think we are climbing toward the top of our peak in Minnesota. So hopefully, it goes through quickly and people are safe and recover.

Larry Kraft  01:58

Even during this, as we have seen from what happened in Boulder, climate change doesn't take a break.

Abby Finis  02:06

Yeah, I think our last recorded episode we were talking about the potential tornadoes in Minnesota in December, which I think more than twenty were recorded as touching down - first time ever in Minnesota touching down in December. And then the very, very intense brush fire that took over a couple of neighborhoods in Boulder County, incredibly scary images coming out of there. That's not supposed to happen, not this time of year.

Larry Kraft  02:33

I have some dear friends that live in that area and were evacuated with their parents. They were one of the lucky ones whose homes survived. Scary stuff.

Abby Finis  02:42

So we're back at it. And, in our first episode we are speaking with some staff at ICLEI, which is an organization that is helping hundreds of cities with their climate action implementing and tracking. We have a really good conversation today!

Larry Kraft  03:00

And, before we start, if you're listening and have not yet supported us in some way please do so go to our website at You can click on the Support Us link to become a monthly supporter and we'll send you some cool gifts. Or go to our store and buy some great merch.

Abby Finis  03:19

We also appreciate any ratings and reviews. Share with your friends! 

Larry Kraft  03:24

Alright, let's do this. 

Abby Finis  03:25

Let's do it. 

Start of Interview

Larry Kraft  03:28

Today we are joined by Angie Fyfe, Kale Roberts, and Josh Radoff of ICLEI. Welcome to City Climate Corner. We'll start with introductions. Kale, why don't you go first?

Kale Roberts  03:40

My name is Kale Roberts and I'm a Senior Program Officer here at ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability. 

Larry Kraft  03:47

And, Josh?

Josh Radoff  03:48

I am Josh Radoff. I have been working with ICLEI for the better portion of the last year helping with the Race to Zero campaign. I'm also a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder where I teach renewable and sustainable energy.

Larry Kraft  04:01

And, Angie?

Angie Fyfe  04:03

I am Angie Fyfe. I'm the Executive Director at ICLEI USA.

Abby Finis  04:06

Welcome you all. I think that a lot of cities have probably heard of ICLEI if they've dabbled in climate at all, but there might be varying levels of knowing what you will work on. Angie, can you give us some background?

Angie Fyfe  04:19

A lot of people like to take the acronym and try to stretch it out into words. Let me dispel that myth right away. The organization was initially the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. Later they legally change their name to the ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability. Still a mouthful either way you parse it, but we are now ICLEI here in the US or ICLEI as our European colleagues like to say.  The organization was really started out of a movement of local governments in 1989-1990. The mayor of Irvine, California recognized that due to the unique nature of Irvine, it was one of the highest emitting local governments for CFC 113, I believe, which is a nasty chemical that was poking a hole in the ozone. And, Mayor Agron said, we have to do something about that. We have the ability to create municipal ordinances, we ought to have the ability to make this contribution globally. So he set out to regulate this CFC emissions coming from the city of Irvine and quickly received pushback from industry. Industry went actually to the US Senate to try to get Irvine to stop doing what they were doing. The Senate decided not to intervene. And indeed, Irvine came together with industry and they set regulations. And, in the first year of regulating CFCs, they reduced one eight hundredth of the amount of CFC that was being emitted globally. They demonstrated that this can be done at the local level. 

And, so out of that the network was born. A gentleman by the name of Jeb Bruggeman, was instrumental in developing the ICLEI network. There was an initial ICLEI World Congress that took place in New York City at the United Nations 34 or so countries, local governments from those countries and this movement of working at the local level to address global, environmental challenges was born.

ICLEI Membership

Abby Finis  06:34

Wow, I did not know that origin story. So you have a network of cities that become ICLEI members. Can you talk a little bit about what that membership looks like?

Angie Fyfe  06:43

We offer service through three layers. The base layer is the ICLEI membership, I like to sometimes describe it as a gym membership. You only get out of it, what you put into it. There are resources, there are tools, there are experts, but you need to participate, you need to be active in the ICLEI network in order to reap all of the benefits that come along with the access to these experts like Kale and Josh. The membership includes ICLEI's clear path tool, which is a software tool that is widely used by local governments to develop greenhouse gas inventories and climate mitigation plans. That used to be the number one reason why the local governments were signing up for a ICLEI membership.  However, we are finding that word of mouth is actually now really driving the membership of ICLEI. We're very, very pleased about that because we don't want to be just a software provider, we want to be a service provider. The second layer of service we offer learn, do cohorts where a group of local governments can participate in a facilitated learning environment in which they will be learning through education provided by ICLEI staff. And then they'll come out with a concrete outcome like a greenhouse gas inventory, or perhaps high impact actions and science based targets. The third level of services we do sometimes find local governments that want to simply outsource their various projects to ICLEI. We do provide them with additional service through a contract with a set of deliverables and scope.

Abby Finis  08:22

What kinds of cities are typically members?

Angie Fyfe  08:25

Anywhere from New York City, which is our largest member, down to mountain towns in the west or communities in Maine who are a couple hundred strong. I love the diversity of the membership because it really brings home the message that anyone can do this. It's not out of reach for any local government. There are peers that you can connect with and learn from, regardless of your size and your capacity.

Abby Finis  08:55

Everyone can join the ICLEI gym. 

Angie Fyfe  08:57

That's right!

Kale Roberts  08:59

Some of our smallest members are villages with around five hundred people, particularly in the Hudson Valley area of New York, where I am located. These are places like Tuxedo, New York, and Hastings on Hudson, New York, Washington Grove, Maryland happens to be one of our smaller communities at 564 population. But, also our membership extends to tribal nations and the lower Elwha Klallam Tribe in the Pacific Northwest region is around nine hundred population and they're also an ICLEI member.

Race to Zero

Larry Kraft  09:35

We want to highlight some of the programs and resources offered by ICLEI. I thought we would start with the Race to Zero and I think Josh, you can tell us something about that campaign.

Josh Radoff  09:48

So the Race to Zero program is an international program that's intended to recruit local governments cities, and also private entities in setting a zero carbon goal. The Zero Carbon goal, I think is the easy part, we're talking about zero carbon by 2040, or 2050. And, in that timeframe, there's enough to essentially say, "Well, who knows what will happen, but we could figure it out when the time comes." It's like saying, at some point in my life, I'll run a marathon. I don't necessarily need to start training right now. But, I might be able to pull it off in five years or so.  I think the more important part of the Race to Zero Program is that it includes setting a science based target. And, science based targets are something that developed, I think, after the Paris Climate Accords, out of the private sector, I believe, where you need to quantify an emissions reductions that would keep us within 1.5 degrees. So that means acting now, it means setting at 2030 targets. So 2030 is not very long from now. Using the methodology that we use in Race to Zero for cities, it means about a sixty percent per capita reduction by 2030.  

Getting cities to adopt something like that is not trivial at all. Before we ask cities to sign up for that, a lot of what we've done this year is to make sure that we feel like that kind of a goal is something that's feasible. And I think it has us reflect on what's different now than five years ago. And, a big part of the story, in addition to the increased attention to climate change, right? It's climate change is not something that is as easily ignorable, as maybe it was in 2015. As well as the progression around a lot of the technologies that we need, you know, if you were to say we need a five percent increase in new electric vehicle sales per year through 2030. So five percent of new vehicle sales next year, then ten percent the year after after then fifteen percent, and so on. If you had said that in 2015, there's no cars that can do that yet. Now, models are much better, much more affordable, many more choices.  Same is true with heat pumps. The same is true with the grid. The fact that renewables are the cheapest form of energy makes advocating for a zero carbon grid, something that's much more achievable than it might have been otherwise. 

You take all those things together, in addition to the things that we've always been advocating, things like building efficiency, vehicle efficiency, vehicle miles traveled, reduction, and you have a suite of options. It's not that many options, you can count them on two hands of measures that you need to do can get every city that we've analyzed to that sixty percent per capita reduction mark.  A lot of what we've been doing this year is just showing cities that that's the case. And, then once cities realize that, then it's a matter of them choosing the right levers. So do they want to emphasize higher electric vehicle penetration, higher vehicle miles traveled reduction, or more emphasis on their building stock? That's a choice that they can make. And then we need to figure out what are the different policy mechanisms to enable it. Part of what we're doing as a continuation of Race to Zero is giving cities those resources and helping them along the way

Larry Kraft  12:48

I would love for you to talk about what kind of cities are participating, the breadth you're seeing. But, do you also find that they're ones that have a Climate Action Plan? Or that this becomes kind of a climate plan for them? Or both?

Josh Radoff  12:59

It's a mix. One of the questions we got early on was from a mayor from a small town that said, "We've already done so much up to like 2018 or 2019. Are you saying that we still need to do a sixty percent reduction from this low point that we already are?" And, we didn't want to really say yes, but the answer was yes. But, then we've analyzed it and it was an answer that was pretty satisfying I thought because cities that have already undertaken a lot of effort around climate planning, and climate action, find that they can achieve sixty percent have a much smaller number is a much smaller amount of reduction. It was an almost an easier thing for that person to do. They also set up a lot of the infrastructure they needed in terms of renewable energy supply or engagement with their building vendors and those kinds of things. So there are certainly small cities that have had climate action plans that have used Race to Zero in a science based target to update their climate action plan so that they're aligned.  And, I can't tell you how important it is that everyone isn't just making up their own reduction goals based on what they think is politically feasible. There's a huge and maybe subtle shift to moving from, "Well, we think we can do X, whatever it is to what is needed is x," right? And, as soon as you say what is needed is a certain amount of reductions, then you're not debating that anymore. You're debating how you get there. And, that's a much more interesting debate. I think it's also shifted the focus towards activity and implementation.  

You asked if there are cities that have never done the Climate Action Plan? And yes, there are a lot of cities that are just kind of waking up to the idea of climate change, and maybe they're waking up to it from a perspective, that's not the need for emissions reductions, but the need for resilience. They're experiencing all the storms, there's money maybe from the state to do resilience planning. Maybe you can imagine the kind of states where this is the context. Out of that comes a Climate Action Plan and the ability to align that climate action plan with others around the country with this global initiative is much more palatable. So you really see a pretty broad spectrum of cities and where they're starting from, but also alignment about where everyone's trying to get to.

Larry Kraft  15:08

So not just large cities, all different kinds are participating?

Josh Radoff  15:11

Yes, very much so. We did a white paper recently where we tried to disaggregate different city types by climate zone, by population density, and by their starting point for emissions per capita. I don't really think we disaggregated by size of city, but certainly in some of the cohort presentations we've done. I was on a panel recently, with a city of like 10,000 people in a city of a couple 100,000 people, there's real breadth in terms of types and sizes.

Larry Kraft  15:37

What are some of the outcomes you're seeing emerge from the program? 

Josh Radoff  15:41

One specific outcome, at least for ICLEI, is a recognition of just an upswell of interest. There's a very natural progression between understanding the high level levers that are available to cities, and then figuring out what resources are available to help translate that into policy. For buildings, if the city decides they need to address five or ten percent of their existing building floor area in a given year, that's an outcome of their first round of understanding of Race to Zero.  And. then the second might be what are the best practices out there? Do we have a benchmarking program in our city? Should we be taking on a building performance standard? Are we in a state that can enable a gas ban? And are we in a city that can set its own building code? Or is that set at the state level? So a lot of it is understanding their state level regulatory context and creating an action plan based on that. 

And then there's a recognition that they don't want to just be myopically focused on emissions, the best programs are also the ones out there that are integrating equity issues, resiliency issues, environmental justice issues. We highlighted, for example, Ann Arbor's Climate Action Plan, because they did a really good job of weaving together all the community health, economic benefits, resilience, equity considerations within their Race to Zero Program. There's this phase of trying to weave all those different pieces together so that the next phase of things is specific policies, programs and actions that reflect that.

Larry Kraft  17:11

Advertisement here, if there's listeners that want to learn more about Ann Arbor, there's a City Climate Corner podcast episode on Ann Arbor.

Angie Fyfe  17:19

Nice! I have to say, Larry, when I saw the science based targets coming out that Josh and the team were working on, and saw this sixty percent number, it was like a big gulp. Like what? You're gonna do what, in eight and a half years now, eight years? Let's see, what are we 95 months from 2030? How are we going to do that? It was a bit of a hard pill to swallow. But, what really has made it successful for our network is this reckoning with, we don't need new technology, we don't need to come up with some new policy instrument, all those things exist. They're here, they're now. They're becoming more readily available, we just have to get all of the wheels turning in the right direction at the right time.  I had the opportunity to present a science based target to a small mountain town in Colorado. And, there was a lot of silence in the room. And so I said to them, what do you think of this? Is this scary? And one person said, "I'll tell you what's scary, is when I see smoke on the other side of the ridge. That's scary. That's when I think okay, what more can we do?" 

We've had some conversations with members who have said, "Well, we already have a target, it took us a long time to get that approved." And, we've encouraged them to use this science based target and the high impact actions that the team provides as leverage for not only achieving those existing targets, but going much further. I think the big shift for us as a team has been that we've never been prescriptive to any of the members of our network. If they wanted to have a ten percent goal by 2050. Okay, we'll help you meet a ten percent goal by 2050. We now have a policy that we will provide a science based target to every one of our members. And, we will encourage them with our support to achieve that target.

Abby Finis  19:12

A lot of cities that I've worked with the goal is really something that has a lot of conversation. Usually they start with the science based target and then they say we have to be more aggressive than that. And then you start having the conversation of well, is that politically feasible? Are we going to get it past Council? It's just something that comes up a lot. It sounds like go with the science based target and do that. But is there any other advice or any tips that you have for cities that are struggling with setting some of these targets?

Angie Fyfe  19:42

We encourage them to look at these existing technologies and policy instruments that are available. We've also done quite a bit more work in 2020 and 2021 on nature based solutions. And, have a new software tool called Learn Land Emissions and Removal Analysis that allows a community to then try to quantify the carbon sequestration and removal benefits of forests and trees in their communities. Kale did a really interesting cohort last year on the sustainable development goals. And, it was interesting to see how many communities really embraced that and were ready to go above and beyond their emissions focused work to do things more holistic

Josh Radoff  20:29

One thing, I guess it's not really advice, but just that we point out is that it's not like we're trying to create out of nothing, activity that just doesn't exist. So it's not the case that people aren't replacing their building HVAC systems all the time. If the useful life of a residential furnace is ten years, you can argue it's fifteen years, but we'll make the math easier. If it's ten years, that means you're replacing ten percent of furnaces every year. If your goal is to electrify ten percent of houses, then you just need to essentially intervene into a stream that already exists. That, at least for me, helps remind me like,  "Oh okay, right. It's not like we're trying to create something that doesn't exist." We're already spending this money on something, we're just redirecting it a little bit. And yes, in some cases, there are things that cost more, but all the measures we have, have benefits both directly financial benefits or community benefits.  

The other advice that I give is not to be too literal about it, don't get hung up on assumption that you just feel like, for example, a lot of what we're talking about in Race to Zero depends on having a clean supply of electricity. We're talking about electrification efficiency, and that relies on having a clean electric grid. How clean is it? Well, we say, "Well, let's assume that the grid becomes eighty percent cleaner by 2030." And I think some people have a really hard time with that, we were able to point to the fact that that was the Biden administration proposal, even if it doesn't happen. In Colorado, there's new legislation that's going to require utilities to create integrated resource plans to achieve those similar levels. So there's a lot out there that we can grounded in to say, like, "Look, we're not just making up this number." But, if that's outside of your control, don't throw the whole system out just because you're uncomfortable with that number. Set that number, do everything in your control around buildings and transportation that uses that number. And, then advocate as much as you can or do whatever is in your power to help get to that number. But, don't let that derail the entire process.

Abby Finis  22:36

Kale did you want to add anything to that?

Kale Roberts  22:38

The Race to Zero has opened up additional opportunities for communities and their leaders to think outside of activity happening solely within its own border. I think about the diverse array of communities that have come to the Race to Zero. I'm thinking about Fort Collins in Colorado, or Miami Dade County, in Florida, places that have been really leading the way for many years. But, by joining the Race and working with ICLEI, realizing that they can be even more part of a global community and getting involved in the Paris Agreement process.  

Then, there are that other set of communities that maybe don't have a climate plan and are really entering this work for the first time. But, what they're finding is they can't do this work alone. I'm thinking about Hailey, Idaho and Ketchum, Idaho, who said, "Maybe on our own, we can't join the Race to Zero, but we can if we do it together." And, so they're rallying communities there in Blaine County, Idaho, to get a whole group of small towns to be able to join the race, and then work with ICLEI to walk through this cohort model and achieve their climate neutrality plan together. The Race to Zero, much like ICLEI as a network has been doing for years now, allows for this creative thinking, sets a Northstar and a vision and then creates this infrastructure for communities to come together and achieve things that they otherwise wouldn't have been able to on their own.

Cohorts and other resources

Abby Finis  24:18

I love that cohort model and seeing the benefits of cities coming together and doing more working together than they can do alone. I'm gonna pivot slightly to cities that our members are working towards goals but maybe are not part of Race to Zero. And, Kale, I think you work with a lot of them and providing assistance to them. Can you tell us what types of resources are available to these cities and how do you work with them on a day to day basis?

Kale Roberts  24:47

I really love working at ICLEI because we're offering tools, we're offering frameworks and protocols. We offer the technical assistance and then also these advocacy and leadership opportunities within a state, nationally, and internationally. Along each of those pillars of what ICLEI does, we really put together a work program that may involve toolkits or even calculators. Someone can model the emissions reduction from adding a mile of bike lane in their community. At the same time, we're able to work with their mayor or council member to put together some talking points that they're going to take to their next presentation to feel comfortable talking about that same climate plan. So really working side by side with leadership and a community, and then also the technical staff that's doing the day to day work. And then connecting that all the way from local to global, what we think of as multi level action or collaboration on all levels of government. So it's the work here in the Hudson Valley in my own backyard, and then taking that to United Nations Headquarters.

Abby Finis  26:03

What do you see is essential to keep cities on track, working toward their goals?

Angie Fyfe  26:09

I think they have to have a sense of possibility. These are big, intractable challenges around sustainability. And, local governments have lots of things to do. They've got to pick up the trash, they have to take care of the streets and sidewalks and curbs. And how on earth do they have time to think about what the world is gonna look like in 2050? So giving our members a sense that what they do matters, and that there is progress. I remember the first job I had that wasn't task oriented. We've all had those jobs were like, my first job was scooping ice cream at the mall. And, it was great. It was like I scooped ice cream and then I was done. And then I went home. And that was a sense of accomplishment. It was awesome.

Larry Kraft  27:00

Wait, you scooped ice cream? 

Angie Fyfe  27:01

Oh, yeah!

Abby Finis  27:04

Larry wants to start an ice cream shop.

Angie Fyfe  27:07

I still love ice cream, then I remember the first job I had that didn't have that endpoint at the end of the day. And I feel like those are the jobs that these folks who are working on sustainability in their community have. There's no end point. My husband's always telling me like, "You have to stop working now." And I'm like, "I'm not done!" He's like, "You'll never be done." Right? What you're working on is going to go on for forever and ever. Helping them to feel successful to be recognized for the work that they're doing to connect with their peers to be encouraged. I think that's the most important thing that we do.


Larry Kraft  27:42

You all get to see and work with so many different cities. I'm always interested to get a sense of what you're seeing in terms of some of the trends.

Angie Fyfe  27:55

We do use a Salesforce database as our CRM. We try to be very data driven, and really track these types of things. Kale can probably speak most directly to the trends.

Kale Roberts  28:07

I'll mention a few things and then maybe you can talk a little bit about the protocol update process we have going this year. There's a shift in how local climate planning is working. For so long, it was very focused on greenhouse gas management and reduction. But, in recent years, a real recognition that this mitigation focus needs to stand side by side with climate adaptation, that understanding that climate impacts are happening here and now and must be addressed.  And, then climate equity, that the impacts and the benefits of climate planning are not equally or equitably spread among our community. ICLEI has really taken that to heart has really led the way to develop what we're calling an integrated climate action plan. That's integrated in terms of mitigation, adaptation, and equity really standing side by side. And we've for so long pioneered and maintain these protocols or the frameworks for how admissions accounting is done in a city or a county or town. And, recognizing that we have this three pillars now to work toward. We've engaged a wide range of stakeholders this year, to help us work in updating these protocols to take those elements into account, but also understanding around forest and tree carbon accounting. Lots of exciting updates in the world of climate science, and an understanding that the protocols can be more of a living thing. Dynamic protocols that are able to respond and almost in real time to accommodate our new understanding.

Angie Fyfe  29:58

Thanks, Kale! The protocol for me is one of those things that helps to remove administrative burden for communities. I mean, imagine if each and every community was trying to determine what is the process by which we're going to account for local greenhouse gas emissions? So having these protocols and methodologies that are standardized and informed by local governments, I think has been part of the secret sauce, in terms of this whole work around city climate action.  This year, we are undertaking an update, as Kale mentioned, to the US community protocol, which ICLEI and experts from EPA and waste management companies and so forth, created about a decade ago. The protocol has come under some scrutiny and some criticism. Some folks have said that greenhouse gas inventories are too cumbersome, too time consuming, too expensive. Why are we doing that? We know what we need to do, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, you know, it's no secret. So in response, we're going to be updating the protocol to have what we call the dash protocol. And this was really enabled by a new partnership that we have with Google, and Google's environmental insight Explorer tool. We've been working with Google EIE now for a couple of years, we now have the ability using Google data to really help a community develop an energy related greenhouse gas profile within a day easy. Making that process more streamlined and straightforward, that then also allows us to bring in other metrics. So the dash protocol will evolve into this very quick measurement of greenhouse gas emissions that will also include a few metrics around equity, health, resilience, and grid, decarbonisation.  At the other end of the protocol conversation are a number of communities that want to go beyond what the US community protocol has traditionally looked at in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. If we think of the inventory as being the starting point for a good climate action plan, what else would you want to have in there? Here's where we want to put more around resilience, equity, health indicators, and potentially different ways to account for greenhouse gas emissions, like consumption based emissions associated with things that are happening outside of the city's boundary. So while that's going on this year, we'll have more to talk about in terms of the update at the conclusion of 2022. The fun part is that it's informed by a steering committee of local governments who are passionate about this type of work. If anyone would love to be involved in the steering committee, we would be really happy to have more folks contributing to it. Or if you'd like to just review a chapter as those chapters come out, please do let us know.

Advice for cities

Abby Finis  32:51

That's really exciting. And, I look forward to that being rolled out. We want to ask you about advice that you would like to give to cities. And, I want to think about cities that are just getting started, as well as the cities who have been plugging away and have maybe felt frustrated by the the pace of progress. So we'll just go around to each of you. If you could offer a little bit of advice. And, we'll start with Josh.

Josh Radoff  33:16

One bit of advice is to recognize that different cities have different priorities. And, that each of those priorities opens the door into a certain series of actions. And, I think a lot of the doors no matter which ones you open tend to lead to similar places. So if you're interested in community health, that's the door or community equity that leads to climate action. And if you're a city that's really sort of environmentally minded, and your focus is on greenhouse gas mitigation, then that might open up a door to the same place where you're doing community health related things as well. So I think the recognition that those issues are intertwined, and that you don't have to essentially fit a certain mold as a type of city to be able to engage in this conversation really fruitfully and allow yourself that space to do that kind of planning. That's one bit of advice. Another is, like we said before, it's not like we are having to make up technologies or strategies that don't exist. I don't know that's really advice, but just essentially providing some sort of assurance that there are tools and pathways that makes the ask not quixotic or Herculean, it's just something that we all need to be doing.

Abby Finis  34:26

Okay, Angie?

Angie Fyfe  34:28

I would challenge you to find me a city that has done nothing. Everyone has done something. I worked with the City of Northglenn, Colorado a couple of years ago on a sustainability plan. They were concerned about getting their staff on board and adding one more thing to their work plan. The first thing that we did was we started to identify the things that they were already doing, that would be included in their sustainability plan. And, they were so surprised that so many of these things would be contributing to and overall sustainability or climate goal. They just thought of it as the stuff that they do every day. So I would say that there's no city that starting from zero. So recognize that you're already on the path.  

Absolutely do not do an internet search, oh my gosh, you'll just go down a rabbit hole. There's too many resources out there. Don't try to spend a day figuring out what's the best solar program for my community, or should solar be the first thing that I work on. Talk to other cities in your region who are already working in this space, you can go to the ICLEI USA website, we have a map of our network cities, pick one out. If you don't know somebody there ask us, we'll give you a name and a phone number. People really want to help. The folks who have been doing this work for a long time. I think part of why they're involved in a network like ICLEI is because they really want to give back. They want to provide somebody with a shortcut to success that maybe they wish they had had, as they were getting started in it. So there's lots of resources out there, but save yourself a lot of internet search and start talking to people. Because I think that's a more straightforward path to figure out what you need to do to get started. Again, we are a very data driven organization. And we want evidence based decisions. So we always recommend starting with some sort of an assessment and a starting point, a baseline from which to work and measure your progress. 

Abby Finis  36:25


Kale Roberts  36:27

Yeah, as Angie was talking about, every community is doing something and it made me think about my work this past year with Fayetteville, Arkansas. They were in that boat, a lot of work going on that sustainability related in Fayetteville, but not neatly part of a sustainability, planning effort in that kind of organized way. At least not at the beginning. So Fayetteville joined with a cohort of seven other communities, Dallas, Texas, to Orange County, Florida to New Haven, Connecticut, to organize their thoughts and organize these disparate actions under a framework. And, the one that we went with was the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or the SDGs. And that gave a lot of direction and allowed for the many different activities that can be part of a sustainability effort. Everything from poverty reduction to efforts to improve gender equality, to any kind of economic growth actions. All of this is sustainability. That's all captured under the UN's SDGs.  There are seventeen goals, no need to tackle all of them at once. But, Fayetteville and the rest of the cohort really realizing that this work that we do and sustainability is very holistic. These communities went on to think of the SDGs as their kind of COVID recovery blueprint, and a way to integrate principles for equity and inclusive planning into every part of the government. At their core, the SDGs are about leaving no one behind. And, this cohort really took to embody that approach and mentality and the heart of the SDGs into their planning processes.  I think recognizing that all actions that your community is doing to make your home a better place falls under sustainability is the place to start. And then you can build under whatever accepted frameworks you want from there. 

The other piece of advice is what we've been saying all along, no need to go this alone. At the end of last year. Our friend Ben Leffel, who was a researcher, delivered us our our holiday present in the form of a study that showed that being part of a local government network actually does contribute to more ambitious climate plans and emissions reductions. Being part of a network really can help your community accelerate its progress. We're the Big 10 here at ICLEI; cities, counties, towns, all shapes and sizes, starting from square one, all the way up to the most advanced ready to go to the UN and advocate. I just encourage everyone to get on board to be part of this movement and make a difference in your own community and the wider network.

Abby Finis  39:34

Everybody get under the tent. Well, thank you all for joining us. This has been a really great conversation and we appreciate your insight and all the valuable resources that you have available to cities.

Angie Fyfe  39:45

Thank you. Now we're gonna go have ice cream. 

Abby Finis  39:48

It's like thirty-five degrees today so I think we have to have ice cream.

Larry Kraft  39:52

You can replace thirty-five degrees with any temperature in that sentence and works for me.

Abby and Larry debrief

Abby Finis  40:01

So what did you think, Larry?

Larry Kraft  40:03

I really enjoyed the conversation. One thing that jumped out at me right away was when they were talking about Race to Zero, and how it's changed the focus a little bit to starting from what is needed, not what is politically possible with a science based target. I think that's really important for folks to start there, and then figure out what you can do to get there. And, then the other thing that was really great to hear was Angie's emphasis that what they're seeing is these reductions that are needed don't require new technology or dramatic new policies. You can leverage policy and technology that's out there to hit these sixty percent reductions by 2030.

Abby Finis  40:48

Yeah, it really requires acting and big actions, And, sixty percent over the next eight or so years, is a pretty steep decline in emissions. We know that the more we delay, and we have fewer years to achieve that, that climb is only going to get steeper. And so hop on that sixty percent train and and start working toward that goal.

Larry Kraft  41:12

The other thing, which was interesting is we watched the evolution of these organizations. Angie was saying that they in the past had never been prescriptive, they would say whatever you want to do as a city to be part of this is fine. But, the shift that they're having to being more prescriptive of, here's how you can do it, how you can make these deep reductions. I think that's a sign of the times and challenges, but also that it's doable.

Abby Finis  41:42

We're seeing broadly and ICLEI of course on it, that increase focus on action, and not just action, but what are some of the higher impact actions that you can take to start denting into those missions.

Larry Kraft  41:55

Abby, you've also been focusing in your main work, that cities have these climate action plans, but you don't have to have a twenty year plan. You can focus on what needs to happen over the next five years. I think it's great to have the broader goal. But, if that's tough, then make a five year goal and get started.

Abby Finis  42:15

Yeah, it helps a lot I think to break it down into chunks, it's super important to have those long term and midterm goals. But, your actions can be focused more on the near term, utilize leverage your long range planning and your comprehensive planning to include climate in there. And, then create a work plan, jot down some action steps that you want to achieve over the next couple of years and work toward chipping away at those. It requires a little bit of a pivot. But, in our conversation today, you're probably doing something right. Most every city is doing something around sustainability and climate inventory. And that and taking it next level, I think is where we're at with most cities.

Larry Kraft  42:54

It's also encouraging to hear that it's cities of all sizes that are involved, from hundreds of thousands down to hundreds are involved with ICLEI and Race to Zero.

Abby Finis  43:04

And yeah, I think it was Kale who was talking about the cohorts that are starting to emerge in Idaho and more rural places where you might not feel like you really have the numbers to do it on your own. But, if you start partnering with learning from nearby communities, it doesn't even have to be nearby, maybe you have similar characteristics. And, just that kind of peer network and diving into these things can really help drive that action.

Larry Kraft  43:31

The last thing I'll note is, at one point, Josh said something about not getting too literal. And I think that makes sense. If you have to make an assumption, especially as a city on what the grid is going to be doing, make a reasoned assumption, do some lobbying to make it happen. But don't get overly worried about that focus on the things that you can do to build on those assumptions.

Abby Finis  43:51

There's a lot of work to be done, but it's doable, and it's going to lead to higher quality lives for our residents and all of our communities.  

We hope you enjoyed this episode of City Climate Corner. If you like what you're hearing, make sure to subscribe and give us a review. If you're able, become a monthly supporter through Patreon. As always, you can find more information on this topic and resources from each episode's guests on our webpage If you have an idea for the show, send us an email at or find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Larry Kraft  44:26

City Climate Corner is produced by Abby Finis and me, Larry Kraft. Edited by me. Our production assistant is Maggie Morin. Music by 

Abby Finis  44:35

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

Larry Kraft  44:37

Thanks for listening, and we'll see you next time.