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How Can Local Laws Make Cities Sustainable?

Local policy and legislation plays a powerful role in the fight against anthropogenic climate change in cities around the world. Twenty two cities from around the world have joined the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance and committed to achieving net zero in the next 10 - 20 years and are leveraging local legislation to do so.


In this article, we walk through four examples of local laws designed to reduce emissions from major cities and evaluate their impact and implementation. We hope that sharing the lessons we learnt from this analysis will help policy makers and campaigners around the world design effective legislation to help win the fight against anthropogenic climate change!


Chicago: The Energy Use Benchmarking Ordinance


This ordinance mandates reporting and benchmarking of annual energy and water consumption of larger buildings with the aim of unlocking energy and cost saving opportunities for businesses and residents. A score is assigned between 0-4 stars. Scores must be publicly displayed or building owners will face fines of up to $9,200.


This policy is framed as a measure to improve economic efficiency, likely contributing to its success and acceptance,. Over 1,000 buildings voluntarily benchmarked themselves in Chicago in 2019.


Lesson 1: Thinking about citizens as customers and designing policy around "What's In It For Them" maximises buy-in and compliance.

New York City: Local Laws 95 and 97


Local Laws 95 and 97 in New York City aim to reduce emissions released from large buildings by 40% by 2030 and by 80% by 2050. Local Law 95, like the initiative in Chicago, requires the reporting and benchmarking of annual energy and water consumption with an efficiency score assigned. Non-compliant building owners face fines of up to $1250.




Local Law 95 differs from the earlier Chicago Buildings Ordinance, in that its stated goal is energy reduction, not economic efficiency. Local Law 97 complements this by introducing an emissions limit to be complied with by 2024, to be lowered again in 2030. These measures, coupled with the introduction of PACE loans, which help buildings go green, have catalysed a surge in investment in sustainable technology from building owners in New York City.


Lesson 2: Pairing policy carrots (PACE) with legislative sticks (Local Laws 95 and 97) catalyses change.

London: Low and Ultra-Low Emissions Zones


Older, more polluting diesel vehicles must pay a daily fee to drive in London’s Low Emission Zone. In April 2019, London introduced the smaller Ultra-Low Emissions Zone, which requires older petrol vehicles as well as older diesel vehicles to pay a fee for driving in it. Both zones were designed to improve London's air quality. Extensive data is published by the Mayor's Office showing the positive impact of these policies.


The zones have created a financial incentives for residents and local businesses to use public transport and invest in electric vehicles (EV’s). London has more publicly available EV chargers than any other UK city and the highest uptake of EVs in the country. (We're not attributing this solely to these policies of course! They're one of a number of complex socio-economic factors.)

Lesson 3: Incremental change is a powerful tool for driving acceptance and uptake.

Madrid: Low Emissions Zone


Madrid Central: Low Emission Zone was introduced in 2018 with the goal of meeting the EU’s limits on NOx. in central Madrid. Pre-2008 diesel and pre-2000 petrol vehicles were banned within the zone. Initial data suggested that the policy was a sucess: NOx fell by 38%, CO2 by 14.2% and particulates by 8.9% within the first month.


However, it quickly became a bipartisan issue - after the 2019 mayoral election a new mayor was elected from the opposing, centre-right political party. Consequently, in July 2020 Madrid Central was suspended by the Supreme Court on a legal technicality picked up by the new mayor’s office. No replacement policy has yet been enacted.


Lesson 4: Achieve cross-party buy before enacting policy change to achieve long term success.

Find out how Innovative Energy Consultants can help you business comply with any applicable local legislation and achieve your sustainability goals by e-mailing eleanor@innovativeenergyconsultants.com today or by using the live chat.


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