Press Release

Scorecard: Cities Embrace Equity Goals in Climate Efforts, but More Action Needed

April 30, 2024

Large U.S. cities are increasingly working to center racial and social equity in their climate and clean energy priorities, but there’s a significant gap in translating ambitions for equitable outcomes into specific policies and programs, according to the 2024 City Clean Energy Scorecard. The new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) ranks 75 of the largest U.S. cities on energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and identifies the best-performing cities, the most improved, and those with substantial room for improvement, with recommendations for making progress. 

Read the Scorecard

San Francisco topped the Scorecard for the second time and scored best on equity metrics. It recently enacted ambitious new climate and transportation plans and has updated zoning codes to encourage more compact development in residential areas. Denver (#2) moved up five spots after adopting energy efficiency requirements for existing buildings and providing support for affordable housing to meet the standards. Seattle (#3) provides no-cost heat pumps to income-qualified households and offers free transit passes for public housing residents. Rounding out the top ten are Los Angeles (#4), Oakland (#5), Minneapolis (#6), New York City (#7), Portland (#8), San José (#9) and Washington, DC (#10).

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The two most improved cities are New Orleans and Miami. New Orleans (#39) jumped 28 spots. The city requires EV charging in new residential and commercial buildings, adopted a plan for carbon-free power generation by 2040, and helped push Louisiana to adopt updated building energy codes. Miami (#27) rose 22 places. It adopted a new climate plan seeking to reduce private vehicle trips by 15% and to make its trolley fleet —a core part of the public transit system in Miami—100% electric by 2035 while prioritizing disadvantaged communities and areas with high asthma rates for trolley electrification.

Focus on equity

The Scorecard increased its focus on energy policies that advance racial and social equity, and many cities embraced equity goals in climate plans. But only four—San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Portland—earned more than half the equity points in the Scorecard. Cities earned a median of only 20% of the Scorecard’s equity metrics. Of the 54 new equity-driven actions identified across all cities examined, only 12 were related to a specific policy, program, or project, with the rest concerning planning or goal setting. One notable success is DC’s ongoing no-cost home electrification program for low- and moderate-income households.

“We’ve seen progress over the last several years, with more cities investing in clean energy, but all cities need to do more to ensure that communities historically left behind, often those with people of color and low-income residents, benefit from the clean energy transition,” said Stefen Samarripas, senior local policy manager at ACEEE and lead author of the Scorecard. “Ensuring equitable outcomes means more than setting goals or making plans. It is critical that cities make real investments to advance energy equity in historically disadvantaged communities.” 

Buildings policies

Buildings are often the largest source of climate pollution in large and midsize cities, sometimes contributing as much as three-quarters of a city’s total emissions, and building policies account for 30% of the points in the 2024 Scorecard. Cities’ performance varied, with the highest scores for energy code compliance and the lowest for policies for existing buildings, though some cities have made strides to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from them. 

Eleven cities in the Scorecard—up from seven in 2021—have adopted building performance standards that require large buildings to reduce energy use or GHG emissions over time. However, many cities are not providing adequate support for affordable housing to comply with the standards, and the Scorecard recommends that cities begin providing that support. Cities can also meaningfully advance racial and social equity by offering low-income energy efficiency and electrification programs that reduce utility bills and adopting rental disclosure policies that inform prospective residents about a home’s energy use to allow them to make informed decisions.

Transportation policies

In the transportation sector, climate pollution is still growing, and just over half the new policies, programs, and plans identified in the Scorecard involve transportation. Of the 81 new transportation actions (52% of the total 156 actions since the last Scorecard), the most common were adopting new sustainable transportation plans (32), adopting new targets for mode shift, EV transit, or EV school buses (18), and adopting zoning codes that encourage compact development and non-auto transportation (9). 

The number of cities adopting transportation emissions reduction targets increased to 31 from 25 in the 2021 Scorecard. But only San Diego is on track to meet its transportation target. As with equity goals, improved transportation plans need to be followed by concrete action to ensure cities’ goals are realized.

Leading cities chart path forward on cutting climate pollution

Mayors from the Scorecard’s top ranked and most improved cities touted their accomplishments in implementing their climate plans.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said: “We are proud to be recognized once again as the top city in the ACEEE’s City Clean Energy Scorecard. Much of this success is reflected in our city’s longstanding investments in clean public power and the development of our most robust climate action plan to date. San Francisco’s 2021 Climate Action Plan proudly centers social and racial equity in each of the 174 strategies we’re pursuing to achieve carbon neutrality. Similarly, the plan aligns our climate work to support other key priorities, like a reliable public transit system and more housing, demonstrating that environmental progress and urban development go hand in hand.” 

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said: “I am very proud of our city’s successful efforts to advance clean energy, energy efficiency and sustainable transportation. Our substantial improvement in the City Clean Energy Scorecard rankings demonstrates our commitment to achieving the ambitious climate goals set forth in New Orleans’ Climate Action Plan. As we continue our climate adaptation strategies, we’re also ensuring we do so in a way that distributes benefits equitably to our city’s people since we are all on the frontlines of climate change.” 

Comparing peer cities

For the 65 cities outside the top 10, the Scorecard grouped each based on the metropolitan region population and the city’s population growth rate. This enables comparisons between cities with similar characteristics and shows the kinds of policy achievements best suited for most cities in each grouping. Though many top performers were large cities, the Scorecard showed progress in midsize cities too. 

Madison, Wisconsin, is the top-ranked midsize city, jumping 18 spots to land at 21st in the overall rankings. Madison ranked third in its efforts to save energy and reduce GHG emissions in local government operations. It also adopted policies allowing for more compact development near high-frequency transit corridors and a goal to reduce vehicle miles traveled by 15%.

The Scorecard evaluated the core cities of the most populous U.S. metropolitan regions. Those cities usually have large populations, many commercial buildings, and they can influence surrounding jurisdictions and the state government. In some cases, the Scorecard also includes the second-most-populous city in a metro area if its population exceeds 250,000. Results are based on data collected from cities, utilities, community-based organizations, and numerous publicly available sources. Staff from all 75 cities were given the opportunity to comment on a draft of the findings.

The Scorecard is accompanied by interactive data visualizations of key metrics and fact sheets describing each city’s performance and recommending ways to improve. 

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Local and Community Initiatives Energy Efficiency and Climate Change Energy Equity Homes and Multifamily Buildings Low-Income Energy Efficiency Programs Transportation System Efficiency Building Policies and Codes Commercial Buildings

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