On 11 November at the U.S. Climate Action Center at COP23, a town hall style event brought together members of the U.S. People’s Delegation, diverse climate activists and local leaders from across the United States to discuss U.S. climate action moving forward.
The session opened with leaders from various levels of state, regional and local governments stepping up to lead on climate. While the national government has abdicated its responsibility to tackle climate change, the significant presence of civil society activists and local U.S. leaders at this COP truly show the climate commitment represented by #WeAreStillIn. Senator Merkley of Oregon made it clear that while the executive branch of the federal government has abdicated responsibility, many in Washington are still working to tackle climate change and grassroots organization strengthens that work.
Fielding questions from the audience, leaders focused in on the need to move away from fossil fuels, addressing the benefits new green economies and greenhouse gas reductions measures can bring. Mayor Peduto of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania outlined his vision for this new future where young Americans are trained for careers in wind and solar energy, creating solid jobs and a sustainable future for Pittsburgh residents. “We respect our past but we don’t have to be wedded to it. There can be a new future for us.” Council member Pam O’Connor from Santa Monica, California said there was significant resistance in Southern California when the state mandated a transport plan that would reduce emissions. However, once the plan was implemented, the co-benefits residents experienced including more accessible pedestrian areas and less pollution convinced the community of the benefits of climate action.
In addition to mitigation efforts, leaders and activists raised the need for increased resilience and disaster preparedness. With increasing extreme weather events affecting communities across the United States from Hurricane Harvey that devastated Houston to rampantly destructive wildfires in northern California, making change at the ground level where communities are seeing the harmful effects of climate change is more important than ever. Brigid Shea, Commissioner of Travis County, Texas said that regardless of politics, everyone agrees community leaders should try to minimize the harm experienced by their communities. “Let’s work where we have agreement,” and everyone needs to be more prepared. Daniel A. Zarilli, Chief Resilience Officer for New York City emphasized the importance of social cohesion in building resilience; in the case of emergency, “the government won’t be the first one to help you, your neighbors will”. He emphasized the need to build communities as well as resilience strategies.
U.S. leaders and activists are not underestimating the impacts of climate change. According to Zarilli “we do ourselves a disservice when we think of climate change only as an environmental issue”. The broader effect of climate change on public health, security and migration will be much more transformative for society at large. With these projections increasingly clear, U.S. leaders and citizens are stepping up and organizing to tackle climate change.