Climate Week themes in action: SAFE Cities highlights policy wins stopping fossil fuel expansion

Wednesday September 22, 2021

SAFE Cities movement surpasses 100 policies that block new fossil fuel infrastructure in communities totaling 44 million people

NEW YORK — On Wednesday, Sept. 22, international environmental advocacy group Stand.earth’s SAFE Cities movement hosted a Climate Week event that highlighted the power that cities large and small have to stop new fossil fuel infrastructure projects. The event concentrated on three topics of land-use authority, resolutions endorsing the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, and building electrification. SAFE Cities policies are real-world actions that showcase many of the central themes of Climate Week 2021, including the built environment, energy, environmental justice, transportation, sustainable living, and policy. 

In 2021, the SAFE Cities movement surpassed 100 policies blocking new fossil fuel infrastructure in communities totaling 44.3 million people globally. SAFE Cities is a growing movement of neighbors, local groups, and elected officials phasing out fossil fuels and fast-tracking clean energy solutions to ensure a just transition. By enacting concrete policies, these communities keep their residents safe from fossil fuels, build renewable energy infrastructure, and create good, long-term jobs. Paired with the international reach of SAFE Cities’ sister campaign, the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, these efforts tackle the climate emergency at all levels of government to ensure high-level ambition is paired with accountable execution on the ground.

The world is on track to produce 120 percent more fossil fuels than is compatible with scenarios limiting climate warming to 1.5 degree Celsius as outlined in the Paris Agreement. Cities play a critical role in stopping production of fossil fuels that are the primary sources of the climate crisis.

“Cities are really on the front lines of the climate crisis,” said Seble Samuel, Global Cities Campaign Lead for the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. “Cities are also the source of so many solutions. With the Treaty, cities can take swift action to phase out fossil fuels, remove the social license of the fossil fuel industry, push social tipping points to make this transition inevitable, and also build pressure from below to pressure national governments to endorse.”

The event highlighted the policies that local governments are enacting that accomplish this objective. Alex Ramel, Climate Policy Advisor for SAFE Cities, hosted the panel discussion on local land-use authority. Panelists discussed policies that local governments have enacted in three locations in 2021: Whatcom County, Wash., which set a national precedent for local land-use regulation of the fossil fuel industry in July, Petaluma, Calif., which became the first city in the U.S. to ban construction of new gas stations in March, and Culver City, Calif., which voted in June to phase out drilling in its portion of the Inglewood Oil Field. Ramel noted the importance of a domino effect, where one city’s leadership inspires others to follow suit, growing the impact of the policy as it takes effect in more jurisdictions.

Whatcom County’s Cherry Point industrial area is home to two of the five oil refineries in Washington state, and has been the proposed location of a litany of fossil fuel industry expansion and transshipment projects over the past decade. In July, the County Council became the first county government in the U.S. to permanently ban new fossil fuel infrastructure projects, while placing groundbreaking restrictions on existing facilities’ ability to expand. The council’s vote to impose a temporary moratorium in 2016 inspired the Tacoma City Council to adopt its own moratorium affecting the Tideflats industrial area, which is the site of an oil refinery.

Petaluma’s action on gas stations is inspiring advocates in nearby Novato to call on their City Council to do the same.

“We already have tons of gas stations in the area,” said Lily Cohen, Founder of No New Gas Novato and a Mobilizing Team Lead for 350 Bay Area. “It was a real inspiration coming from Petaluma. It’s big corporations telling smaller city councils where and what they should do based on the revenues that they provide. There are a lot of people who really care about this issue. It doesn’t matter where you come from or who you are, you can be a leader.”

In Culver City, the City Council’s leadership in June on phasing out drilling helped inspire a subsequent action by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in September. L.A. County is taking the first steps to phasing out oil production in the unincorporated area, including in its part of the Inglewood Oil Field.

“We would not have been able to get this far without sustained community pressure,” said Culver City Councilmember Yasmine-Imani McMorrin. “All of that time that you put in, it’s worth it. It bends toward justice. We have to make it bend, but it bends. Apply pressure to your electeds. Hold us accountable. Never feel bad about taking up space.”

Nathan Taft, Digital and Communications lead for SAFE Cities, hosted the panel discussion about endorsing the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. It featured discussion of endorsements by city governments in Los Angeles and Toronto, and work occurring in Nigeria to achieve the Treaty’s objectives of stopping new fossil fuel exploration and development.

“We’re really all in this together,” said Andy Shrader, Director of Environmental Affairs, Water Policy and Sustainability for L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz. “This planet is a tiny, fragile little place. We’ve got to do everything we can. As the little cities go and lead the way, then the mega cities like L.A. will jump in.”

“(Nigeria) is starting to experience the implications of climate change, with the flooding, the deforestation, and the desertification,” said Olanrewaju Suraju, an anti-corruption activist. “The international oil corporations are responsible for this. Nigeria is also capable of negotiating with the international community. We have charged the government to do the appropriate thing. Start working gradually to the achievement of some of the objectives of the Treaty.”

“Find your allies, and that’s allies in the climate community, environmental community, medical community, youth, and labor,” said Lyn Adamson, Co-Chair of ClimateFast and of Canadian Voice of Women for Peace. “Find your allies at City Hall. Find a sympathetic councillor and reach out to help.”

Wilder Zeiser, US Oil & Gas Climate Campaigner for SAFE Cities, led the panel discussion on building electrification, which focused on policies adopted in Berkeley, Calif., which was the first in the U.S. in 2019, in Sacramento in June 2021, and in New York City, which adopted Local Law 97 in 2019. Sacramento adopted a prohibition on gas hookups in construction of new low-rise developments beginning in 2023, and then encompassing mid- and high-rise developments in 2026. Elected leaders, labor unions, environmental justice advocates, and others continue to work on how the city can equitably address gas hookups in existing buildings through retrofits.

“We wanted to make equity front and center,” said Sacramento City Councilmember Katie Valenzuela. “We want to be able to say we are improving public health. Get those neighborhoods that are on gas off as quickly and as safely as possible. We have to be very mindful that we don’t create harm. It’s going to be unique to Sacramento. We’ve got to start confronting these tough problems in these neighborhoods. It’s also the most practical way that we move forward in meeting our climate targets.”

“It was amazing to see all of the support,” said former Berkeley City Councilmember Cheryl Davila, addressing the council’s vote to ban gas hookups in 2019. “This is one of those things that all cities can do. The impact of fossil fuels in our buildings is bad for our health.”

In New York City, organizers found a powerful coalition of support in communities of color and progressive voters by identifying building decarbonization as a source of good, well-paying jobs that would help solve the climate crisis.

“That combination is very powerful politically,” said Pete Sikora, Climate and Inequality Campaigns Director with New York Communities for Change. “That’s how we broke through with passage of Local Law 97. It’s a law that the real estate industry fought very strongly to defeat. They are still trying to defeat it. We can create jobs to solve the climate crisis. The inspiration was to solve those two problems at the same time.”

###

Media contacts: 

Peter Jensen, SAFE Cities Communications Coordinator, safemedia@stand.earth, +1 415 532 3817 (Pacific Time)
Matt Krogh, U.S. Oil & Gas Campaigns Director, matt@stand.earth, +1 360 820 2938 (Pacific Time)