In the US, some Republican mayors are secretly fighting climate change

Climate change protesters. Image: Getty.

Leadership in addressing climate change in the United States has shifted away from Washington, D.C. Cities across the country are organising, networking and sharing resources to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and tackle related challenges ranging from air pollution to heat island effects.

But group photos at climate change summits typically feature big-city Democratic mayors rubbing shoulders. Republicans are rarer, with a few notable exceptions, such as Kevin Faulconer of San Diego and James Brainard of Carmel, Indiana.

Faulconer co-chairs the Sierra Club’s Mayors for 100 Percent Clean Energy Initiative, which rallies mayors around a shared commitment to power their cities entirely with clean and renewable energy. Brainard is a longtime champion of the issue within the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Climate Mayors network.

In our research at the Boston University Initiative on Cities, we found that large-city Republican mayors shy away from climate network memberships and their associated framing of the problem. But in many cases they advocate locally for policies that help advance climate goals for other reasons, such as fiscal responsibility and public health. In short, the United States is making progress on this issue in some surprising places.

Miami, Florida Republican Mayor Tomás Regalado urged voters to support a $400m bond in November 2017. About half of the money will be used to protect the city from sea level rise and flooding.

Climate network members are mainly Democrats

In our initiative’s recent report, “Cities Joining Ranks,” we systematically reviewed which U.S. cities belong to 10 prominent city climate networks. These networks, often founded by mayors themselves, provide platforms to exchange information, advocate for urban priorities and strengthen city goverments’ technical capacities.

The networks we assessed included Climate Mayors; We Are Still In, which represents organisations that continue to support action to meet the targets in the Paris climate agreement; and ICLEI USA.

We found a clear partisan divide between Republican and Democrat mayors. On average, Republican-led cities with more than 75,000 residents belong to less than one climate network. In contrast, cities with Democratic mayors belonged to an average of four networks. Among the 100 largest U.S. cities, of which 29 have Republican mayors and 63 have Democrats, Democrat-led cities are more than four times more likely to belong to at least one climate network.

This split has implications for city-level climate action. Joining these networks sends a very public signal to constituents about the importance of safeguarding the environment, transitioning to cleaner forms of energy and addressing climate change. Some networks require cities to plan for or implement specific greenhouse gas reduction targets and report on their progress, which means that mayors can be held accountable.

 

Constituents in Republican-led cities support climate policies

Cities can also reduce their carbon footprints and stay under the radar, a strategy that is popular with Republican mayors. Taking the findings of the “Cities Joining Ranks” report as a starting point, I explored support for climate policies in Republican-led cities and the level of ambition and transparency in their climate plans.

To tackle these questions, I cross-referenced Republican-led cities with data from the Yale Climate Opinion maps, which provide insight into county-level support for four climate policies:

  • Regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant;
  • Imposing strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants;
  • Funding research into renewable energy sources;
  • Requiring utilities to produce 20 per cent of their electricity from renewable sources.

In all of the 10 largest U.S. cities that have Republican mayors and also voted Republican in the 2008 presidential election, county-level polling data showed majority support for all four climate policies. Examples included Jacksonville, Florida, and Fort Worth, Texas. None of these cities participated in any of the 10 climate networks that we reviewed in our report.

;

Image:Yale Program on Climate Change Communication/creative commons.

This finding suggests that popular support exists for action on climate change, and that residents of these cities who advocate acting could lobby their elected officials to join climate networks. Indeed, we have found that one of the top three reasons mayors join city policy networks is because it signals their priorities. A mayor of a medium-sized West Coast city told us: “Your constituents are expecting you to represent them, so we are trying politically to be their voice.”

;

Mayors join networks to amplify their message, signal priorities to constituents and share information. Image: BU Initiative on Cities/creative commons.

Climate-friendly strategies, but few emissions targets

Next I reviewed planning documents from the 29 largest U.S. cities that are led by Republican mayors. Among this group, 15 have developed or are developing concrete goals that guide their efforts to improve local environmental quality. Many of these actions reduce cities’ carbon footprints, although they are not primarily framed that way.

Rather, these cities most frequently cast targets for achieving energy savings and curbing local air pollution as part of their master plans. Some package them as part of dedicated sustainability strategies.

These agendas often evoke images of disrupted ecosystems that need to be conserved, or that endanger human health and quality of life. Some also spotlight cost savings from designing infrastructure to cope with more extreme weather events.

In contrast, only seven cities in this group had developed quantitative greenhouse gas reduction targets. Except for Miami, all of them are in California, which requires its cities to align their greenhouse gas reduction targets with state; plans;. From planning documents it appears that none of the six Californian cities goes far beyond minimum mandated emission reductions set by the state for 2020.

;

Greenhouse gas reductions goals, with baselines, for the seven largest Republican-led cities. Image: Nicolas Gunkel/creative commons.

Watch what they do, not what they say

The real measure of Republican mayors taking action on climate change is not the number of networks they join but the policy steps they take, often quietly, at home. While few Republican mayors may attend the next; round; of sub-national climate summits, many have set out policy agendas that mitigate climate change, without calling a lot of attention to it – much like a number of rural U.S. communities. Focusing narrowly on policy labels and public commitments by mayors fails to capture the various forms of local climate action, especially in GOP-led cities.


Carmel, Indiana Mayor James Brainard has suggested that some of his less-outspoken counterparts may fear a backlash from conservative opinion-makers. “There is a lot of Republicans out there that think like I do. They have been intimidated, to some extent, by the Tea Party and the conservative talk show hosts,” Brainard has said.

Indeed, studies show that the news environment has become increasingly polarised around accepting or denying climate science. Avoiding explicit mention of climate change is enabling a sizable number of big-city GOP mayors to pursue; policies; that advance climate goals.

Nicolas Gunkel, Research Fellow at Boston University Initiative on Cities, Boston University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

“Without rent control we can’t hope to solve London’s housing crisis”

You BET! Oh GOD. Image: Getty.

Today, the mayor of London called for new powers to introduce rent controls in London. With ever increasing rents swallowing more of people’s income and driving poverty, the free market has clearly failed to provide affordable homes for Londoners. 

Created in 1988, the modern private rented sector was designed primarily to attract investment, with the balance of power weighted almost entirely in landlords’ favour. As social housing stock has been eroded, with more than 1 million fewer social rented homes today compared to 1980, and as the financialisation of homes has driven up house prices, more and more people are getting trapped private renting. In 1990 just 11 per cent of households in London rented privately, but by 2017 this figure had grown to 27 per cent; it is also home to an increasing number of families and older people. 

When I first moved to London, I spent years spending well over 50 per cent of my income on rent. Even without any dependent to support, after essentials my disposable income was vanishingly small. London has the highest rent to income ratio of any region, and the highest proportion of households spending over a third of their income on rent. High rents limit people’s lives, and in London this has become a major driver of poverty and inequality. In the three years leading up to 2015-16, 960,000 private renters were living in poverty, and over half of children growing up in private rented housing are living in poverty.

So carefully designed rent controls therefore have the potential to reduce poverty and may also contribute over time to the reduction of the housing benefit bill (although any housing bill reductions have to come after an expansion of the system, which has been subject to brutal cuts over the last decade). Rent controls may also support London’s employers, two-thirds of whom are struggling to recruit entry-level staff because of the shortage of affordable homes. 

It’s obvious that London rents are far too high, and now an increasing number of voices are calling for rent controls as part of the solution: 68 per cent of Londoners are in favour, and a growing renters’ movement has emerged. Groups like the London Renters Union have already secured a massive victory in the outlawing of section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions. But without rent control, landlords can still unfairly get rid of tenants by jacking up rents.


At the New Economics Foundation we’ve been working with the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority to research what kind of rent control would work in London. Rent controls are often polarising in the UK but are commonplace elsewhere. New York controls rents on many properties, and Berlin has just introduced a five year “rental lid”, with the mayor citing a desire to not become “like London” as a motivation for the policy. 

A rent control that helps to solve London’s housing crisis would need to meet several criteria. Since rents have risen three times faster than average wages since 2010, rent control should initially brings rents down. Our research found that a 1 per cent reduction in rents for four years could lead to 20 per cent cheaper rents compared to where they would be otherwise. London also needs a rent control both within and between tenancies because otherwise landlords can just reset rents when tenancies end.

Without rent control we can’t hope to solve London’s housing crisis – but it’s not without risk. Decreases in landlord profits could encourage current landlords to exit the sector and discourage new ones from entering it. And a sharp reduction in the supply of privately rented homes would severely reduce housing options for Londoners, whilst reducing incentives for landlords to maintain and improve their properties.

Rent controls should be introduced in a stepped way to minimise risks for tenants. And we need more information on landlords, rents, and their business models in order to design a rent control which avoids unintended consequences.

Rent controls are also not a silver bullet. They need to be part of a package of solutions to London’s housing affordability crisis, including a large scale increase in social housebuilding and an improvement in housing benefit. However, private renting will be part of London’s housing system for some time to come, and the scale of the affordability crisis in London means that the question of rent controls is no longer “if”, but increasingly “how”. 

Joe Beswick is head of housing & land at the New Economics Foundation.