New Jersey Mayors for Climate Protection: The Challenge of Moving from Talk to Action
Passed in 2005, the USMCPA seeks to place climate protection measures in the hands of local municipalities with the belief local governments can contribute to the goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to seven percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Basic demographic data was collected on 104 (out of 566) New Jersey municipalities endorsing the agreement as of May 28, 2009. Municipalities are located all across the state with varying population sizes. There is a wide range of USMCPA sign dates, and different degrees of climate network participation in the Sierra Club Cool Cities and International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), which provide guidance and assistance to municipalities working toward climate policy. Environmental Commissions are another common occurrence. Since there are no actual requirements for municipalities to report or complete for the USMCPA, it is important to consider what is happening through statewide programs such as the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC) and Sustainable Jersey. ANJEC provides information and workshops on good environmental practices to take within the state while Sustainable Jersey certifies municipalities working toward sustainability through 100 action points.
Next, a Focus Sample of 34 municipalities is examined through a series of five hypotheses to determine what factors enable/constrain local governments in completing climate action plans, and are listed below. Lack of official reporting requirements and benchmarks by the USMCPA may explain the poor performance seen in New Jersey, leading municipalities to feel uncompelled to take action.
1. Municipalities with a population above 35,000 are more likely to have some form of climate action plan. “Some form” of climate action plan includes those completed, in progress, or planned for the future. The critical value population of 35,000, is the minimum number necessary to apply for state funding, therefore municipalities above this value in theory have more opportunities to get money, which is essential to completing climate action plans because they are very expensive. Municipalities above the critical value of 35,000 are 40% more likely than those below the critical value to have some form of climate action plan. Therefore, these trends tend to support the hypothesis.
2. Municipalities with an earlier sign date are more likely to have some form of climate action plan than those with a later sign date. The majority of municipalities signed the USMCPA some time in 2008, and when comparing sign dates and climate action plans, municipalities signing some time in 2007 were only slightly more likely to have some form of climate action plan than those in 2008. Therefore, these trends tend to make the hypothesis inconclusive, since 50% of municipalities signed during 2008.
3. Participation in a climate network, such as the Sierra Club or ICLEI, increases the likelihood of a municipality having some form of climate action plan. Surprisingly, about the same percentage of Sierra Club/ICLEI members with some form of climate action plan also did not have a climate action plan. Additionally, there are a large percentage of municipalities not affiliated with either climate network whose climate action plan status is unknown; therefore it is hard to determine just what the level of climate action plan status among these municipalities is. These trends suggest an inconclusive hypothesis.
4. Municipalities that do not designate climate policy to a department or staff member are less likely to have some form of climate action plan. By designating a department or staff member with the task of overseeing climate policy, the issue is placed directly in the hands of people involved in the government, and can provide a direction for growth. Both department and staff member designation show a strong correlation with no designation of department and staff member and no climate action plan. The opposite is also true. The trends tend to support the hypothesis.
5. A municipality having an Environmental Commission or some form of Sustainable Jersey participation is more likely to have some form of climate action plan. In terms of having an Environmental Commission and some form of climate action plan, only 30% do while 50% do not, making these findings tend to disprove the hypothesis. The results are hardly better for Sustainable Jersey membership, with 36% of municipalities both with and without some form of climate action plan. Therefore, these trends show Sustainable Jersey participation and having some form of climate action plan is inconclusive.
Findings of this report suggest caution when interpreting the significance of the USMCPA. While more than 960 mayors have signed the agreement, evidence suggests relatively few are making progress in developing and implementing climate action plans, a key step in municipal climate protection. In order for agreements like the USMCPA to be effective in adressing reduction of GHGs, local leaders must gather support within their community and from state leaders to mobilize enough man power and financial resources to tackle the issue head on. Sustainble Jersey looks to be a promising program in the future to help combat this issue by providing the requirements needed for a municipality to become “sustainable” that the USMCPA does not have. Lastly, there need to be benchmarks or requirements set by the USMCPA in order to make municpal officials feel compelled to act, and answer their talk through action.