World leaders for more than two decades have been talking about climate change and the growing urgency to do something to curb the carbon emissions that fuel it.

As world leaders conclude yet another round of talks in Paris this week about international action on climate change, the bulk of the action to take place so far has been happening in cities.

Here in Maine, South Portland is just one city that has been taking action to reduce its carbon footprint for almost a decade.

“If the larger beast can’t do it, let’s break it into smaller pieces,” South Portland City Councilor Claude Morgan said Tuesday.

All emissions are local

When he served as mayor of South Portland in 2007, Morgan became one of the first mayors in Maine to sign the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement.

Mayors who sign the Climate Protection Agreement, written in 2005, agree to cut carbon emissions in their cities and enact policies and programs to meet the challenge of climate change. To date, more than 1,000 cities have signed the agreement, including 15 in Maine, spanning from Belfast to Kennebunkport.

South Portland adopted the agreement out of a feeling of frustration that the U.S. had failed to show leadership by withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol in June 2001, Morgan said. If the national government couldn’t take steps to target climate change, then the city would take its own steps, albeit smaller ones.

“Nothing can substitute what should have been established at Kyoto,” Morgan said. But the steps South Portland has taken since 2007 show “a willingness at different levels of leadership to do what national leaders failed to do.”

Helping cities, businesses and residents in Cumberland County adopt energy efficiency policies and reduce emissions is the Greater Portland Council of Governments, a nonprofit representing 26 communities in the county.

“It’s really important for there to be action at the local level,” Jennifer Brennan, special projects director, said Wednesday. “At the local level it’s real people, and real people need to make real change.”

Brennan said the council acquired a Nissan Leaf electric car a couple years ago and lent it to area cities interested in adding electric vehicles to their fleets. South Portland was the first city to test it; Portland, Scarborough, Falmouth and others also tried it out.

Afterward, many cities, including Portland and South Portland, did add electric cars to their fleets, Brennan said. Changes such as these can result not only in carbon reductions but also long-term savings for cities operating with tight budgets, freeing up money that can go toward other services, she said.

To the north, a pair of Bangor city councilors are crafting a plan to reduce residential energy consumption through a low- or interest-free loan program. Through a partnership between the city and the Efficiency Maine Trust, Bangor residents could secure loans to weatherize their homes, add solar panels or modernize boilers. A final version of the plan won’t be released until early 2016.

“While addressing global warming is important, I want people to be able to live here,” City Council Chairman Sean Faircloth said Tuesday. “A clear step towards reducing emissions is to reduce people’s energy bills.”

Small steps, big changes

As part of its commitment to the Climate Protection Agreement, South Portland crafted a climate action plan in 2014 under which the city would reduce carbon emissions from “municipal activities” by 17 percent by 2017. (Cumberland County has adopted a similar plan to reduce emissions related to county functions by 17 percent also by 2017.) While the current climate action plan focuses specifically on reducing emissions generated by the city government, the second and third phases of the plan, now under development, would set goals for commercial and residential emission reductions.

According to a 2007 greenhouse gas inventory, South Portland’s municipal energy consumption generates about 10,100 metric tons of emissions annually. Under the “17 x ‘17” target, South Portland has to reduce its annual emissions by 1,700 metric tons.

To get there, the plan laid out 18 actions and several recommendations to increase energy efficiency in municipal buildings, including switching to energy-efficient appliances. The emissions-reducing actions also included adding more fuel-efficient vehicles to the municipal fleet.

According to the city’s climate action plan, using more fuel-efficient vehicles could reduce emissions by about 1.7 metric tons per car per year. After trying out the Greater Portland Council of Governments’ electric car, the city added two electric cars to its municipal fleet and erected three charging stations, Julie Rosenbach, the city’s sustainability coordinator, said Tuesday.

Efficiency upgrades to most city buildings, including a switch to natural gas from oil, already have produced results, according to the climate action plan, with an annual reduction of 400 metric tons of carbon emissions — 24 percent of the city’s goal.

Other steps the city has taken include switching to LED streetlights in its Knightville neighborhood, replacing old appliances with energy-efficient models, expanding access to public transit and installing a solar array atop the planning and development office, according to Rosenbach.

The city hasn’t yet determined how close it is to reaching its goal. Rosenbach said the city is conducting a new greenhouse gas inventory of city property, to be finished by fall 2016, that will shed light on whether these actions have met, missed or exceeded the mark. But Rosenbach is optimistic that the inventory will show the city’s efforts have achieved results.

“I expect the city will not only have met, but will exceed its goal,” she said.

Morgan, the city councilor, said he “won’t be disappointed” if the city misses its goal because, either way, South Portland is committed to making long-term changes to its energy use and reducing emissions.