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Mayors Lead National Action on Climate Protection

By Ed Somers
November 19, 2007

There were two consistent themes for the opening plenary session of the Mayors Climate Protection Summit which was held November 1-2 in Seattle, WA: one, the scientific debate regarding climate protection is over; two, mayors are leading the United States on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

USCM President Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer thanked the more than 100 attending mayors for being a part of “the largest gathering of U.S. mayors on the issue of climate protection,” and more importantly for the leadership they are each providing on reducing carbon emissions.

Referencing a recent United Nations Global Environment Outlook (GEO-4) Report, USCM Vice President Miami Mayor Manny Diaz said, “Environmental protection and human development are inextricably linked … and for the past two decades, the life of our planet has been in decline.” Pointing out that 36 U.S. states will face major water shortages in the next five years, Diaz added “quite simply, we are squeezing the life out of our planet.”

USCM Advisory Board Chair and Meeting Host Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels related that while he was first elected on a platform of light rail transit, he was pulled to the issue of climate protection when in the Winter of 2004-2005 the ski season was cancelled in the Cascade mountains as a result of a lack of snow, which threatened Seattle’s water and hydro-electric power supply.

After this event, Nickels started the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement with eight mayors, which then grew to 141 mayors — one for every country which signed the Kyoto accord. At the start of the Seattle Summit, there were 710 cities who had signed the agreement, with a total city population that represents 25 percent of all Americans.

“Now is the time to turn the conversation into action,” Nickels added. Seattle has reduced its carbon emissions eight percent below 1990 levels thereby meeting the Kyoto Protocol — but Nickels emphasized that the city will continue to make even greater progress.

Nickels was joined at the Summit by Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, who said her state has been experiencing both droughts and floods in different regions as a result of climate change.

Palmer spoke to the actions the Conference of Mayors has taken on this priority, including holding two previous energy and environment summits, establishing a new Mayors Climate Protection Center, helping secure the additional mayors on the Climate Protection Agreement, collecting and sharing best practices from cities, and participating in the C-40 climate meeting in New York City.

A constant discussion point over the course of the Seattle Summit was how to pay for local climate protection measures, and how to find leverage capital to incentivize private actions. To that end, Palmer highlighted how USCM is pushing for final enactment of a $2 billion, five year Energy and Environmental Block Grant which is now under debate in House'senate discussions on a final energy bill. A mayoral sign-on letter was circulated at the Summit in support of the block grant.

Conference Executive Director Tom Cochran also said that USCM is working — by going into Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — to make sure that the mayors’ climate agenda is a key part of the presidential campaign, and that the Mayors 10-Point Plan is part of the first 100 day agenda regardless of who wins the White House.

USCM has worked to build partnerships with the business community in support of the climate agenda and overall city priorities, and it was very encouraging to hear from Starbucks CEO Jim Donald who said, “As I read through the Mayors 10-Point Plan, it is very similar to the Starbucks six guiding principles.”

Carmel (IN) Mayor James Brainard, who serves as Co-Chair of the USCM Climate Protection Task Force, could not attend because he was in the middle of an election, but sent a video which highlighted local actions being taken to support climate protection and sustainable development.

Following up on Diaz’s statement that the “national government’s response has been nonexistent,” Nickels said, “cities are going to be the solution. City dwellers emit 25-30 percent less carbon than do folks that live in the outlying areas.”

For this reason, Nickels emphasized the importance of the USCM 10-Point Plan saying that we need national, state and local policies that encourage people to choose to live in cities.