Bon voyage, Mayor Buxbaum.
Our mayor is off to Paris for a meeting of mayors from all over the world that will explore how cities can contribute to solving the climate crisis. The meeting is hosted by Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, and co-chaired by Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York and now U.N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, and the mayors of Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro, Dakar and Seoul.
According to Hidalgo, cities account for 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. So actions by local governments will be crucial to helping all the nations of the world achieve the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that are so urgently needed.
To date, 170 countries have made specific pledges for greenhouse gas reduction. But even if they are kept, scientists calculate that the world will not meet the goal of holding global temperature increases to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. That goal was long believed to be the benchmark for preventing major climate catastrophe, but even that much increase may spell doom for low-lying island nations and vulnerable coastal areas, and result in many other damaging changes to weather patterns.
The Paris climate talks truly are poised on the knife edge of possibility and peril. On the one hand, more nations are pledging to reduce emissions, and the technology for renewable energy is making faster advances than ever before. On the other hand, it’s hardly a sure thing that nations will keep their promises, or even that the Paris talks will conclude with an agreement rather than dissolving, as previous summits have, into a fight between the advanced economies responsible for the most pollution and developing countries that will suffer the most from the effects of climate change.
Cities have a lot at stake, because 90 percent of the world’s largest cities are coastal, and therefore on the front line of rising sea levels. And cities have a lot to say about how urban planning, building codes, waste reduction practices and transportation can reduce emissions.
At last year’s U. N. climate summit in New York, a Compact of Cities was launched to facilitate cities’ progress, create a way for cities to compare their achievements, and, perhaps equally important, to provide tools for cities to lobby their national governments for the funding they will need for urban climate action.
The city of Olympia has signed on to this compact, which comes with an obligation to report on its greenhouse gas emissions inventory, the climate hazards and vulnerabilities we face, our target for reducing emissions, and our plans to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate. The city is paying Buxbaum’s airfare, about $2,600, and the mayor is paying for his hotel.
It will be fascinating to learn what cities all over the world are doing that we might learn from, and it will be challenging to set and meet a specific target for reducing emissions.
When Mayor Buxbaum returns from Paris, we look forward to a report on what he’s learned and how it can help our city be part of the climate solution.