The speeches from President Barack Obama and other heads of state may have concluded, but the work has just begun for U.S. mayors and local leaders who have traveled to the UN Climate Change conference in Paris to support a global climate change agreement.
Photo: Jacky Naegelen/Reuters
The National League of Cities (NLC) and partner organizations ICLEI, the World Wildlife Fund, and the U.S. Green Building Council have convened an 11-member delegation to advocate for their communities and for cities all across America. This group includes mayors of Atlanta, Boulder, Colo., Chula Vista, Calif., Des Moines, Iowa, Grand Rapids, Mich., Oakland, Calif., Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, and West Palm Beach, Fla., and councilmembers from Santa Monica, Calif. and King County, Wash.
The cities represented are all signatories to the Compact of Mayors, under which cities conduct greenhouse gas emission inventories, develop climate action plans and report on their progress.
On Wednesday, December 2, ten of the eleven leaders had arrived and the group gathered to discuss their goals, their message, and to review the final schedule of events that will take place over the next several days here in Paris.
Even before this strategy session, several leaders had already traveled to the conference for a handful of early sessions and meetings.
Boulder, Colo., Councilmember Matthew Appelbaum had the busiest day of the group, first speaking at a panel at the German Pavilion on the path to 100% renewable energy. Later that afternoon, he spoke on the topic of emissions measurement and verification technology hosted by Harris Corporation. Appelbaum pointed out that the topics are related in interesting ways that can be counterintuitive for policymakers. For example, the measured emissions directly over Boulder may be low, but much of the city’s energy comes from coal plants located far away and the city has worked hard to continue to improve efficiency. Additionally, he noted that many Boulder residents oppose new development – particularly some proposed data centers – on the grounds that it will increase the city’s emissions. However, Appelbaum noted that because of their heightened energy standards these facilities would be more efficient in Boulder than if they were built elsewhere – a net benefit in the bigger picture.
Elsewhere at the event, Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie and King County Council Chair Larry Phillips were able to have separate meetings with U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewel of the U.S. Department of Interior and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Each expressed their strong support for the effort being demonstrated by the administration, as well their desire for greater resources to help cities who are already striving to meet these goals.
Thursday at the conference, mayor George Heartwell of Grand Rapids will moderate a panel “A Tale of Three Cities” at the U.S. Center sponsored by the U.S. Department of State featuring Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland. Following that, Mayor Reed will speak about Atlanta’s efforts to reduce energy consumption through benchmarking policies. Then it’s off to Paris City Hall to attend the Climate Summit for Local Leaders.
Thursday, December 3, was the Day 2 of the UN Climate Change conference in Paris. The delegation of local leaders that was convened by NLC and its partners – ICLEI, the World Wildlife Fund, and the U.S. Green Building Council – were at the main site of the negotiations for another round of sessions.
A morning panel, “A Tale of Three Cities,” featured mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland as well as panelists from Copenhagen, Denmark, and Kotzebue, Alaska, at the U.S. Center, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The panel was moderated by Mayor George Heartwell, another member of the NLC-organized group, and it highlighted the shared experiences of the three coastal cities feeling the impacts of a changing Arctic. Mayor Schaaf summarized the role of cities in Paris, saying “if you get enough cities on board, it has greater effect than nations.”
Thursday was also ‘Buildings Day’ at the convention site, and Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta joined a panel of global efficiency leaders to discuss the energy benchmarking policy and other initiatives that have helped Atlanta improve the performance of its buildings. Currently, the city has over 100 million square feet of building space participating in the national Better Buildings Challenge, which will help the city meet its goal to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2040.
On Friday, the whole group will be participating in the Climate Summit for Local Leaders at Paris City Hall, where they will hear from President Hollande of France, and meet with a group of US Senators who have traveled to Paris to support the conference.
In his opening remarks at the Climate Summit for Local Leaders in Paris, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared that it was the “Largest gathering of global mayors and local leaders ever, the first to coincide with the UN meeting of nations, and we’re making history today. But we are not here to make history, we are here to preserve the future.”
It was more than a complement to his audience. In his role as Special Envoy to the UN for Cities and Regions, Bloomberg has worked for years to earn the kind of status and recognition that cities have achieved at the COP-21 negotiations. On Friday, December 4, city leaders grabbed the microphone both figuratively and literally to announce to the negotiators that local governments were already doing the work that is now being asked of nations.
Hosted by Bloomberg and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, the event showcased influential government and business representatives from around the world, including an address from French President François Hollande, who admitted that even with a successful global agreement, “National governments can provide funding, but increasingly cities and regions will be the key player.”
Many members of the NLC-led group were able to share some of their unique local experiences.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf noted that the presence of cities the whole week was important because it “created the political pressure and support for national leaders, but [cities] are also proving that it can be done, and it can be done without tremendous cost, and that it can be done with actual benefits to the economy.”
Mayor Mary Salas noted that her city of Chula Vista, CA, had been planning and implementing pollution reduction measures since the early 1990’s. Transit, walkability improvements, and other efforts have had far-reaching impacts on community satisfaction, educational attainment, and the attractiveness of the city within the region.
However, as effective as many of these leaders have been over the many years, greater support and cooperation from state and national government is essential to take the kind of action necessary to keep global temperatures from rising to dangerous levels. Councilmember Matt Appelbaum of Boulder, CO pointed out that “What cities are doing is fabulous, it needs to be done, it creates the foundation on which everything else sits, but you think about what national governments could do, a carbon tax, that would change the whole game immediately.”
You can see interviews from all NLC-led local leaders from the Climate Summit for Local Leaders:
- Mayor Mary Salas, Chula Vista, Calif.
- Mayor Libby Schaaf, Oakland, Calif.
- Mayor Kasim Reed, Atlanta, Calif.
- Mayor Frank Cownie, Des Moines, Iowa
- Mayor Jeri Muoio, West Palm Beach, Fla. & Councilmember Matt Appelbaum, Boulder, Colo.
- Mayor George Heartwell, Grand Rapids, Mich., moderating a panel with Mayor Libby Schaaf, Oakland, Calif.
by Carolyn Berndt
Day 4 of the UN Climate Negotiations ended with big news: negotiators have agreed on a draft global accord for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While much work remains to be done as we head into the second week of COP21, NLC and our delegation spent “Action Day” highlighting the work of cities and local leadership in tackling climate change.
NLC participated in two events recognizing the great progress cities have made toward climate mitigation and the commitments for future action. In the morning, ICLEI hosted a briefing on “Local Action, Global Results” that recapped local climate action since 2007 and recognized the work of all US local officials in developing climate solutions for their communities. Moving beyond recognition, cities across the country are now implementing even more ambitious goals. A key tool to help cities measure progress toward their goals in a transparent matter is ClearPath, which over 300 US cities using this tool for the past three years and which is now available to cities globally. Mayor Libby Schaaf discussed Oakland’s success with ClearPath in measuring greenhouse gas emissions reductions across a variety of policies and programs, including zero waste, land use and transportation.
In the afternoon, NLC partnered with the German Marshall Fund to host a briefing, “Leading from the Front with Equity and Inclusion,” to bring together local officials from the US and Europe to share opportunities and challenges of leading equitable and inclusive climate and clean energy policies that create vibrant cities and regions. Mayors Ralph Becker of Salt Lake City and Kasim Reed of Atlanta participated in the panel, along with NLC CEO and Executive Director Clarence Anthony and local officials from Turkey and Sweden.
NLC’s priorities at COP21 include a commitment to inclusion and social justice that goes beyond sustainability and climate change. “Climate change is a reality for our cities every day. Equity and justice are at the heart of what makes our communities strong,” said Mayor Becker. Mayor Reed echoed these sentiments, stating that equity must be part of a city’s core decisions.
Mr. Anthony concluded the panel by stating that local action on equity and inclusion is about “giving a voice to populations that often don’t have a seat at the table, but have a huge stake in the issue and the desire for an equitable solution.”
The day wrapped up with a briefing and reception with the US Ambassador to France, Jane Hartley, on the importance of cities in the negotiation process and a reception hosted by Paris Mayor Anne Hildalgo at the Eiffel Tower.
About the Authors:
Carolyn Berndt is the Program Director for Infrastructure and Sustainability on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. She leads NLC’s advocacy, regulatory, and policy efforts on energy and environmental issues, including water infrastructure and financing, air and water quality, climate change, and energy efficiency. Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @BerndtCarolyn.