Local governments continue to stand up against President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Iowa City mayor Jim Throgmorton recently signed two letters stating the city’s intention to uphold the principles of the Paris Accord — one from the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, and the other by the Climate Mayors, which was signed by 292 other mayors in the U.S. The Johnson County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution stating a similar objective at their meeting last week.
“We hope other counties will sign on as well,” Mike Carberry, vice chair of the supervisors, said to The Daily Iowan. “Since the president and the country aren’t going to show leadership, then local governments have to do it — cities, counties, maybe even states.”
Earlier this month, Trump announced his intent to ditch the agreement between 195 countries to reduce emissions to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.
Both Iowa City and Johnson County have a reputation of being particularly progressive, especially in terms of environmental action. Johnson County has built several Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified buildings, increased its dependence on solar power, and implemented recycling and waste reduction practices. Iowa City set a goal to reduce its greenhouse gas output by 80 percent by 2050, established a committee aimed at climate action, and improved access to recycling and composting.
“In terms of the U.S. as a whole does, does it matter what Iowa City does?” Throgmorton said to The Daily Iowan. “No, I don’t think it matters, but if you combine all these cities in the United States … that adds up. It feels very powerful to me to know that what we’re doing is being done in affiliation with so many cities and mayors around the world … It gives me a sense of working for the common good together with millions of people.”
As the COP 21 climate conference enters its second week, three representatives from the University of Iowa’s Center for Global and regional Environmental Research (CGRER) are on the ground in Paris to cover the event. CGRER co-director Jerry Schnoor and graduate assistants Nick Fetty and KC McGinnis got together Monday afternoon for a question and answer session with Des Moines mayor Frank Cownie.
*Some quotes have been edited for length and clarity*
SCHNOOR: Today at COP 21, there was a meeting of the BlueGreen Alliance. Michael Brune – executive director of the Sierra Club – said cities are able to make dramatic progress compared to those at the national level, what’s he talking about and is that true?
COWNIE: What he’s talking about is the ability of cities to make decisions immediately. We don’t need to have an act of congress or an appropriation that might come 12 to 16 months down the road. If there are things that need to be done we can do them today. The federal government, short of a national emergency, is very slow to respond and react. We’re working in preparedness and mitigation techniques. We recognize from past experiences some of the vulnerabilities we have even in Iowa to extreme weather events such as flooding and extreme downpours which result in water issues: flooding, water quality issues, erosion. It talks about the future of the state of Iowa. It talks about the future of the city of Des Moines. So we’re able to jump in there and start working with it and we can immediately start working with some of our local players. So as mayor of the city of Des Moines, I can enlist some of my local businesses, schools, other governmental agencies, counties. We can partner together also talking to people in their own residences, their own homes, on what they can do to make some progress lowering their utility bills but more importantly, at least in the discussion here about carbon, by lessening their utility bills they can save 30, 40, 50 percent on their bill, it’s 30, 40, 50 percent less carbon they’re putting through their furnace.
SCHNOOR: For the city of Des Moines, what specific things can you cite in the area of sustainability and lowering your carbon footprint?
COWNIE: Well first of all, we’re one of the cities that signed on the Compact of Mayors agreement. There’s 120 cities that responded to the plea by the president of the United States to get local government to respond. What does that mean? It means that we’ve signed up and we’ve committed. Additionally, we’re going to do an inventory of our greenhouse gas emissions. The city of Des Moines has already done that. And then what you do is make a plan to mitigate and target for reductions. In Des Moines we’ve added hybrids and electric vehicles in our fleets. We’ve redone, re-purposed, re-energized buildings with new furnaces, new heating plans, new cooling plans, new windows, new doors, new insulation. Some of which we’ve really taken to the extreme level. Our old library, as you know you and I did a meeting there, that building is over 100 years old. It’s on the national historic registry. Now the World Food Prize is there. It’s a LEED platinum building and a historic structure. We’re doing all kinds of things with the public sector doing what we can do. Leading by example. And also using our powers at the city level to encourage our businesses to do the right thing. So when Wellmark made their new building, we offered some tax increment dollars to get them to rethink how they were going to build their new building and they came to an agreement with us and built the world’s largest – at the time of their opening – single-owner, single-occupant LEED platinum building in the world. Those are the kinds of things we like to see because it speaks to not only energy but it speaks to the health of buildings. It speaks to the food they serve. How people get to and from work using public transportation. So many aspects of it touch on carbon use.
SCHNOOR: Is an action agenda for a city like Des Moines somewhat easier to implement than say for a whole country?
COWNIE: That’s right. At the local level, one of the inspiring things we can do is I know mayors from around the country, I know them around Iowa. We share good ideas. I try to call it legitimate larceny. If somebody has a really good idea on how we can make improvements and achieve further reductions, I’ll steal their good idea and I hope they’ll steal mine.
SCHNOOR: There’s some wariness here at COP 21 that we’re going to fall short. There’s an emissions gap between what’s needed to control the environment to less than two degree warming, we seem to be short. And they’re talking about a more ambitious agenda. Could some of that ambition come from the Compact of Mayors and people like yourself?
COWNIE: Yes. I think that some of the talk I’ve heard is that if they have the cities and the cities commit, and the cities actually do the work and meet their goals, that could account for about 25 percent of that gap that you’re talking about achieving that two degree goal. But I think that one of the things that we all worry about is that there’s so much carbon in the atmosphere that there’s sort of a pent up increase that’s going to happen over the next 50 to 100 years, that we can’t do anything about today so we’ve got to lower the emissions. Figure out how to capture carbon. How to do so many different things and aggressively raise our ambitions to achieve many higher levels. I think local government is one of the places it can really move forward and we can spread that 25 percent hopefully to 50. We know that 70 percent of the energy that’s used happens in cities and the expansion and GDP and future is mostly going to be in cities so let’s rethink how the city ought to operate and let’s hope Des Moines is on the right track so we can get to a net zero city at some point or another.
Stay tuned to Iowa Environmental Focus throughout the rest of the week for continued coverage of the event. Follow CGRER and its reporters on Twitter: @CGRER, @JerryatCOP21, @nick_fetty, and @McGinnisKC.
The University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) will send three UI graduate students to attend the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (or COP 21) next week.
The three UI students attending the event are Nick Fetty, KC McGinnis and Andrea Cohen. Fetty and McGinnis are both masters’ students in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication who also serve as graduate assistants and communication interns at CGRER. Cohen is doctoral student in the College of Education who formerly served as Commissioner for the City of Iowa City Human Rights Commission. The three will be in Paris from December 7 through December 12.
Jerry Schnoor, CGRER co-director and environmental engineering professor will also attend COP 21 and will cover it for the academic journal, Chemical & Engineering News. Follow Jerry on Twitter @JerryatCOP21.
McGinnis, Fetty and Cohen will be providing daily updates on the climate talks and activities of COP 21 participants. They will be following topics that are of interest to Iowans including following the efforts of Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie and Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol who will also be in Paris. Their print, photo and video coverage will be hosted at www.IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org and www.cop21memo.weebly.com. Also follow them on Twitter at @CGRER, @nick_fetty and @mcginniskc.
Representatives from 196 countries are expected to attend the event which will run from November 30 through December 11. Event organizers hope that the diplomats from the various countries will be able to come to a “legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C,” according to the COP 21 website.
This week’s On The Radio segment looks at Iowans attending the climate conference in Paris which begins today and continues through December 11.
Transcript: Several Iowans to attend Paris climate conference
Several prominent Iowa researchers and policy makers will be at an international climate summit being held in Paris this month.
This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.
The 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will be held from November 30 to December 11. There, delegates from 196 nations will seek to reach a legally-binding agreement on a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
Des Moines mayor Frank Cownie, University of Iowa professor of civil and environmental engineering Jerry Schnoor, and Dubuque mayor Roy Buol will be among the Iowans present at the conference. Two dozen Mississippi River mayors have met since September to discuss the impacts of climate change on their river economies and the importance of cleaning up the Mississippi. A group of these mayors including mayor Buol will discuss these issues with delegates from seven of the world’s major river basins.
Dr. Schnoor will be reporting on findings from the conference for the American Chemical Society while the University of Iowa’s Andrea Cohen will be representing the Iowa United Nations Association. CGRER will also be providing continuous updates from the conference.
For more info about the Paris climate talks visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.
From the UI Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.
World leaders will gather in Paris this November in hopes of reaching an international agreement on climate change and mitigation standards.
The 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP21, will be held from November 30 to December 11. There, delegates from the 196 states that have ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will seek to reach a unanimous and legally-binding agreement on a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to 2°C that can be implemented by 2020.
“We therefore have a historic responsibility, as we are the first generation to really become aware of the problem and yet the last generation that can deal with it,” said French minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development in a Youtube statement.
To reach this agreement, member countries will be required to submit documentation of their contributions to greenhouse gas reductions, which will be summarized to give a broad picture of their efforts. Participants will then discuss tangible steps and options for reducing their carbon footprints, such as renewable energy, carbon taxes, technological innovations and sustainable agricultural practices.
The challenge for COP21 will be to prove that international negotiations between large member states with complex agendas can in fact be fruitful. Last year’s COP20 conference in Lima, Peru was blasted by the convention’s Women & Gender Constituency, who claimed that it “failed to move substantially forward towards the ultimate goal of agreeing on a plan to avert climate catastrophe.”
“Governments should be immediately implementing a renewable and safe energy transformation,” wrote Bridget Burns, of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, “but here at COP 20 in Lima, in spite of working almost 2 days overtime, they did not come close to reaching this goal.”
COP21 could prove to be either a crucial point in the fight against climate change or another failed attempt at the kind of global cooperation scientists agree is necessary to prevent catastrophic effects of climate change like rapid sea level rise.