On June 5, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the Commitment to Adopt, Honor, and Uphold the Paris Agreement. This Mayor’s Order renews and reconfirms DC’s commitment to the historic agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for climate change impacts. Why did a US mayor sign on to an international agreement? There’s a story here!
Sea level rise. Melting Arctic ice. Flooding. Climate change is impacting our world. The Paris Climate Agreement is the first widely negotiated commitment to address climate change. The terms of the agreement were negotiated by the planet’s 197 countries in 2015. Per the United Nations, by early June 2017, 195 countries had signed the agreement while 147 countries had gone on to ratify it. But, on June 1, much to the dismay of most environmentalists, world leaders, and climate scientists, President Trump announced that the US would be withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement – joining only two other countries, Syria and Nicaragua, that had refused to sign. (The Nicaraguan government refused to sign on the ground that the terms are too weak to mitigate climate change impacts.)
While there have been doubts about the Trump administration’s environmental agenda, the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement sent a clear message that climate change is of concern. Yet, the US is the second highest emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2) – one of the major causes of climate change. Furthermore, the impacts of climate change are being felt in cities and towns across the US.
The Agreement and Its Meaning for DC
The Paris Agreement seeks to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, approximately 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels, and strengthen the ability of nations to address climate change impacts. Financial mechanisms, new technologies, and capacity-building will be developed to accomplish these goals.
Nicky Sundt, a longtime Capitol Hill resident and senior fellow for the Government Accountability Project Climate Science & Policy Watch, explains: “Mostly because of our unconstrained fossil fuel use, greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are rising rapidly, triggering massive changes in the atmosphere and oceans. Not only is our climate being disrupted, but oceans are rising, warming, and growing more acidic. These are the alarming facts that competent experts agree upon. We are dangerously unprepared for the consequences we’ve already committed to.” She warns, “Our longterm survival depends not only on preparing for the impacts but in very rapidly and sharply reducing our fossil fuel use to limit additional climate and ocean changes. We must take the steps from the international level all the way to the community – and even individual level. We each matter and can be part of the solution.”
The District, with little industry and a compact urban population, ranks 35th among US states in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, according to a US Energy Information Administration study published in 2014. Per the Department of Energy & Environment’s “District of Columbia Greenhouse Gas Inventory Update of 2012- 2013,” total citywide emissions were 7.58 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalent (MtCO2e). Energy used to power, heat, and cool buildings accounted for 74 percent of 2012 total emissions, while on-road transportation and Metrorail accounted for 23 percent.
Despite its relatively low emissions, DC is taking a leadership role to address climate change. In 2011, the District initiated Sustainable DC, a comprehensive sustainability plan which established goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2032 and 80 percent below 2006 levels by 2050. In July 2015, DC brokered an agreement that will source 35 percent of the government’s electricity from wind power over the next 20 years, saving DC taxpayers $45 million while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, a recently negotiated $100 million, five-year contract with the DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DC SEU) will provide financial incentives and technical assistance to residents and businesses for green energy initiatives. A proposed DC Green Bank will help create green jobs, expand solar power, lower energy costs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
When signing the Mayor’s Order, Bowser stated, “The effects of climate change are already here, and without proper planning and collaboration, they will be catastrophic. It is in the country’s best interest to take climate change seriously, and as the nation’s capital, we have a special obligation to create policies and implement programs that protect our environment.” With the order, DC joined over 1,400 US cities, states, and companies (including Virginia and Baltimore and Takoma Park, Md.) that have signed a “We Are Still In” statement committing to the Paris Agreement objectives.
DC will always have the Paris Agreement, and it seems we’ll have a lot of company!
Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer, and a blogger for the DC Recycler, www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter @DC_Recycler. She is also a board member of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club and Green America, but her perspectives are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of either organization.