Article: Cities Are Making Big Climate Promises. Keeping Them Can Be Tough

Climate Change, Political Science/Policy // 10 mins

Solar panels cover cars parked in a lot nearby Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta. The city aims to rely largely on renewable energy by 2035. Jaime Henry-White/AP

Two years ago, Atlanta was widely lauded when it committed to have all homes, businesses and city operations rely largely on renewable energy in coming decades. It was part of a wave of cities responding to more intense flooding, heat and storms, and setting ambitious goals to tackle climate change even as the Trump administration ignores the issue.

Since then Atlanta has held public forums and put together a plan to achieve its goal, which the City Council adopted this past March. It includes boosting energy efficiency, using more renewable power and buying renewable energy credits.

The city has been held up as a leader by the Sierra Club, awarded a grant in the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge and given props by climate activist Al Gore, who declared that if Atlanta can do it, any city can do it.

But it turns out one thing Atlanta can't do is choose where its energy comes from. As in many places, the utility — Georgia Power — makes that decision because it's a monopoly. It's also regulated by statewide elected officials who are all Republican, none of whom has emphasized climate change as a concern.

And so not long after Atlanta's City Council voted on a climate plan, it's become clear that meeting its lofty goals could prove harder than expected.

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Published on NPR on May 29, 2019.