The 21 American Cities Getting an ‘A’ in Climate Action

Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
Fully nine of the 21 A-list American cities were in the Bay Area. | Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
Fully nine of the 21 A-list American cities were in the Bay Area. | Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Preparing for climate change means different things for different cities. We all need to reduce carbon emissions and transition to 100% renewable energy sources, but coastal cities also need infrastructure that’s built for rising sea levels; other cities may focus on fighting drought. Some cities are making progress, some are not. In light of this, CDP, a nonprofit that works with companies to help them disclose and mitigate their individual environmental impact, has released its first-ever ranking of which cities around the world are leading the way in climate action.

Of the 596 cities that CDP evaluated, 43 scored an “A” rating for implementing their respective climate strategies. Of those 43 cities, 21 are American cities. The US breakdown might not be what you’d expect if you’re not a climate wonk (or not yet, anyway; everyone’s gonna learn a lot in the next couple of years). Though individual scores are kept private, the A-listed cities demonstrate high marks in assessing climate risk and vulnerability; developing a robust mitigation strategy; measuring emissions; creating ambitious reduction targets of said emissions; and publically reporting their findings.  

Fully nine of the 21 A-list American cities were in the Bay Area. Some of the biggest cities are missing (Los Angeles, are you lost). And there are some smaller ones you probably haven’t heard of. Shout-out to Lakewood, Colorado, in the county where I grew up. As my own adjacent hometown did not make the list, I apologize to the City of Lakewood for anything we ever chanted during volleyball games. The full list of cities, in alphabetical order, is: 

Arlington, Virginia
Benicia, California
Boston, Massachusetts
Cleveland, Ohio
Denver, Colorado
Emeryville, California
Fremont, California
Hayward, California
Indianapolis, Indiana
Lakewood, Colorado
Minneapolis, Minnesota
New York City, New York
Oakland, California
Palo Alto, California
Piedmont, California
Rochester, New York
San Francisco, California
San Leandro, California
Seattle, Washington
Washington, DC
West Palm Beach, Florida

Only five cities anywhere in the world have set 100% renewable energy targets for 2030 (one has already achieved this -- Reykjavik). Two of those five cities are in the US: San Francisco and Minneapolis. SF already gets 59% of its energy from renewable resources; Minneapolis currently gets 24%. Take heart, though -- more than 100 cities in the US have something in the works, even if they’re not as far along as SF and Minneapolis.

Globally, 15 cities have set goals to be carbon neutral by 2050. Six are in the US: Boston, Indianapolis, New York City, Seattle, Washington DC, and West Palm Beach. On a related environmental note, Boston and cities throughout Massachusetts have been doing a hell of a job banning plastic bags even in the absence of a state-wide ban like the ones that have been passed in California and New York. Goes to show you, shit can still get done without the federal government’s help.

We may be out of the Paris Agreement as a country, but that doesn’t have to prevent the cities that make up our country from making moves on their own. Also, The Hague got an ‘A’ for its new resiliency infrastructure, so if any of the climate-denying politicians are ever actually charged with crimes against humanity, they’ll be safe there for the rest of their lives.

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Kastalia Medrano is Thrillist's travel writer.