After declaring the climate crisis to be a top priority of his administration, President Joe Biden recently solidified his greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets as part of a major global summit. The national goal is to reduce GHG emissions to 50% of the amount emitted in 2005 by 2030, with an even bigger goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

The targets are necessary and ambitious. They also will require a set of systems-level changes across every sector of the economy. But there’s a problem. The administration’s high-level strategy skimmed over a central driver of our climate crisis: unsustainable land-use practices.

Simply put, the United States cannot reach its GHG reduction targets if our urban areas continue to grow as they have in the past. After decades of sprawl, the U.S. has the dubious honor of being a world leader in both building-related energy consumption and vehicle miles traveled per capita. Making matters worse, lower-density development also pollutes our water and requires higher relative emissions during the initial construction.

That leaves the country with no choice: We must prioritize development in the kinds of neighborhoods that permanently reduce total driving and consume less energy. Such human-centered neighborhoods have the added benefit of helping us adapt to climate impacts, improve public health, and promote access to activities. Encouraging their development should be a central part of any national climate resilience strategy.

This won’t be an easy task. Fundamentally changing where and what we build requires new ways of planning and investing in our communities. Since the federal government doesn’t directly control local land use, changing where we live and how we get around will require buy-in from states and local governments that manage zoning and other regulations, real estate developers who lead construction, and the finance industry that underwrites it all. With little time to waste, the U.S. must begin testing and scaling policy levers than enable a more resilient approach to regional development.

Read the full article about combatting the climate crisis by Adie Tomer, Joseph Kane, Jenny Schuetz, and Caroline George at Brookings.