Report: Cities Have A Very Long Way To Go To Meet The Paris Climate Goals

Cities across the country have committed to taking the lead on climate change, but it’s going to be a long road.


As the current administration rolls back environmental regulations–led by a president who believes global warming is a Chinese hoax–many American cities have stepped up their efforts to curb climate change on their own.


But a new report from the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network shows that cities have a significant way to go to reach target carbon emission levels. An evaluation of the 100 most populous U.S. cities across 16 sustainability goals, informed by the UN’s two-year-old globally accepted Sustainable Development Goals, shows that, collectively, cities are faring badly in their climate goals. The report recommends 1.8 tons of carbon emissions per capita to meet Paris climate agreement levels, but the worst U.S. cities are producing 22.2 tons per capita.

[Photo: Daniel Espinoza/EyeEm/Getty Images]
According to Mihir Prakash, the lead author on the paper, the three worst offenders are Detroit, Kansas City, and Minneapolis. But the cities with the lowest carbon emissions aren’t much better. The McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metro area in the southern part of Texas has the lowest carbon emissions of any metro area in the country–and it still produces 12.35 tons per capita. The report doesn’t indicate why particular cities rank better or worse on the different criteria, but Prakash says that history does play a role. Take Rust Belt cities like Detroit, for instance. The fact that these cities’ manufacturing is tied to automobiles could contribute to their high carbon emission scores.

The dramatic progress cities need to make when it comes to climate change is highlighted in a simple dashboard that lists each of the 100 cities included in the report and grades them with green, yellow, orange, or red for each criteria, where green is good and red is poor. The criteria range from poverty level to economic growth and gender equality–all part of sustainable cities. The climate change category is the only one in which every single U.S. city is in the red.

[Image: Sustainable Development Solutions Network]
This is important because cities are home to 54% of the global population and responsible for 70% of global carbon emissions, according to the report. “They are where the battle for sustainable development will be won or lost,” the report states.

Some cities do fare reasonably well across all of the report’s categories–particularly Californian cities. San Jose, San Francisco, San Diego, and Ventura County are all in the top 10 for the index across the board. And despite having fewer resources and influence than federal and state governments to dictate policy, Prakash does believe that cities can impact climate change. “I personally think cities have a significant amount of authority to make positive change in combatting climate change agenda,” he says.

What might that look like? Planting trees, utilizing abandoned spaces, and designing resilient waterfronts is a start. But there’s still a long road ahead.

About the author

Katharine Schwab is the deputy editor of Fast Company's technology section. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @kschwabable