What are the best ways for U.S. cities to combat climate change? A new study co-authored by an MIT professor indicates it will be easier for cities to reduce emissions coming from residential energy use rather than from local transportation — and this reduction will happen mostly thanks to better building practices, not greater housing density.
The study analyzes how extensively local planning policies could either complement the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) of 2015 or compensate for its absence. The CPP is intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. In early 2016, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling halted the measure’s potential enactment; the legal case is unresolved and the Trump administration has announced it intends to unwind the CPP.
“Our take-home message is that cities can do a lot at the local level with housing stock,” says David Hsu, an assistant professor in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and one of three co-authors of a new paper detailing the study’s findings. However, he adds, “In transportation, cities can’t make up for the loss of a national strategy.”
The researchers also found that policies with the biggest local impact vary from city to city, with faster-growing Sun Belt cities such as Houston and Phoenix having the potential to enact a bigger reduction in residential emissions than older cities such as Boston or Philadelphia, which see less change in their housing stock.
“For some cities, some policies will clearly be more effective than others,” Hsu observes.
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