Leading the Way

A US city is already achieving economic growth, greater equity and reduced emissions by implementing the inclusive green economy.
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Sceptics say that we can’t afford to decarbonize our economies. I say that we can’t afford not to.
Between 2005 and 2013, Oakland reduced its emissions by more than 15 per cent overall, and a host of new programmes launched since 2013 will lower them even further.

People across the globe celebrated the signing of the United Nations climate accord in Paris in December. It was truly a landmark event and I was proud to be a part of the Local Climate Leaders Circle of Mayors representing my city and others across the United States.

It was inspiring to see 196 countries come together to sign an agreement to protect the future of our planet. But while national governments were just starting to make their commitments to a cleaner and greener future, cities were showcasing years of success and demonstrating how to get there. Delegates saw the vision, leadership, and innovation of the more than 500 mayors who described the incredible progress their communities have made in winning the battle against climate change.

Sceptics say that we can’t afford to decarbonize our economies. I say that we can’t afford not to. Oakland, California – home to more than 400,000 of the most diverse and creative people in the world – provides a shining example of how to build an economy that thrives on the opportunities presented by addressing climate change.

Here on the West Coast of North America, clean-economy jobs grew 19 percent between 2010 and 2014, more than double the rate of overall job creation. This is very visible in Oakland, where industries such as solar energy, recycling, energy efficiency and clean technology are booming. The city hosts more than 350 companies that are focused on clean and green industries, and those companies have more than 7,000 employees.

Our unemployment rate has plummeted from 17.1 per cent in 2010 to just 5.5 per cent in 2016, and while our economy has grown, our carbon footprint has shrunk. Between 2005 and 2013, Oakland reduced its emissions by more than 15 per cent overall, and a host of new programmes launched since 2013 will lower them even further. Our per capita emissions are among the lowest in the United States, and the city is committed, through its Energy and Climate Action Plan, to continue reducing emissions by more than 80 per cent by 2050.

In a recent article, the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington joined the Premier of British Columbia to argue that “halting climate change is an opportunity to deepen investments in what already makes our communities great, such as clean air, resilient infrastructure, efficient transportation, and good jobs.” To this list, I would add: the opportunity to ensure that every member of the community can be part of the green revolution.

Oakland is one of the most diverse cities in the world, and this diversity defines not only who we are, but what we stand for. To be a sustainable model city, new jobs and investments must reflect the diversity of our population. Our low-carbon economic growth is doing just that. Our green economy includes CEOs, designers, engineers, and analysts. It also includes solar panel installers, energy efficiency contractors, recycling workers, and urban farmers.

Oakland non-profits like GRID Alternatives, Solar Oversight, and Vote Solar create pathways for traditionally underrepresented residents to reap the benefits of solar and energy efficiency improvements. Our solar companies like Sungevity, BrightSource, and Borrego Solar are creating a wide array of living-wage, green-collar jobs in markets with long-term employment potential.

Non-profit organizations like Oakland’s OTX West are diverting e-waste by teaching young people to rehabilitate old computers so they can be put back into use by schools, community centres and low-income families who otherwise would not have access to internet-connected computers. Using funds from California’s Cap and Trade system, the City of Oakland is turning the profits of polluters into clean, safe, walkable, efficient and affordable housing for our residents. Throughout the green economy, both the jobs and the benefits of this growth are being felt by all sectors of the population, adding to the vibrancy and resilience of the city.

This is just the beginning. As Daniel Hamilton, the City’s Sustainability Manager, puts it: “the opportunities created by the transition to a carbon-free world will be widespread, and nowhere is better suited to take advantage of the new business models than Oakland.” Our economy of the future will house green jobs not only in sectors like solar energy and waste reduction, but across all business types.

Our automotive sector will continue along its pathway to electric cars and non-traditional modes like electric scooters and bicycles, just launched in Oakland by the clean tech company GenZe by Mahindra.

Technology companies will find new and innovative ways to reduce emissions in everything from computers and appliances to office buildings and hospitals. Small companies will supply the world with local solutions to environmental challenges, demonstrating that saving the planet is good for business.

From restaurants and corner stores to multinational corporations and technology giants, the inclusive green economy holds the promise and potential to blend equitable growth and environmental performance with economic prosperity. It is bold, it is collaborative, and it is the most dynamic path to equitably meet the challenges of climate change – as we are demonstrating in Oakland.