St. Edward’s at COP21: Big (Clean & Sustainable) City Dreams

This blog is part of a series written by St. Edward’s student Chris Jackson, who was selected as one of eight students from around the country to represent the American Chemical Society (ACS) as a student ambassador at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 21st Conference of Parties (UNFCCC COP21) in Paris in December of 2015. Student delegates like Chris attended talks, took part in UN events, discussed special interests with other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and interviewed world leaders. We will publish one of Chris’s blogs each week, so stay tuned for more!

By Chris Jackson, 12/3/2015

If you want to see what’s really being done to curb climate change, go to the cities.  Today’s highlight was watching a dynamic panel of city leaders at the U.S. pavilion, moderated by George Hartwell, Mayor of Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Three very different cities, each with a unique message.  Here’s a (brief) breakdown:

Maija Lukin – Councilwoman in Kotzebue, Alaska

  • Population: 3200 people
  • Environment: Gravel spit above the Arctic Circle – mainly permafrost
  • Problems: Food security (caribou, seals, fish), coastal erosion, diminishing sea ice
  • Adaptations: Shore Avenue Project made significant improvements to mitigate coastal erosion and prevent the city from being swallowed by the ocean
  • Lessons learned: Cities can’t wait for funding, direction, etc.  They must act now!

Libby Schaaf – Mayor of Oakland, California

  • Population: Over 400,000 people
  • Environment: 20 miles of waterfront property along the San Francisco Bay
  • Problems: Emissions, income disparities
  • Adaptations:
  • Lessons learned: Policies can be comprehensive and achieve other social equity goals.  We must consciously involve citizens in the climate change dialogue.

Jorgen Abilgaard – Executive Climate Project Director in Copenhagen, Denmark

  • Population: ~2 million people (metropolitan area)
  • Environment: Urban, eastern coast of Zealand
  • Problems: Extreme rainfall, growing population
  • Adaptations: Wind turbines, Low Energy Class buildings, climate plan developed with industry & investment stakeholders, C40 network (carbon neutral cities alliance)
  • Lessons learned: Look for climate partners in business, universities, and other cities to develop sustainable innovation.

So now you’re wondering: but I don’t live in one of those cities.  Short of packing up and moving there, what can I do?  The good news is that at the city level, it’s easy and necessary for you to get involved!  Cities serve as the testing ground for different practices and adaptation strategies.  Action in our local communities proves to world leaders that it can be done, paid for, and things can change for the better.

50% of the world’s population lives in cities, and that number is predicted to reach 67% in the near future.  Even in a worst-case scenario, where countries fail to pass a binding treaty to curb emissions at COP21, cities around the world can and will take on the fight against climate change.

Photo above of Chris Jackson and Libby Schaaf