The international climate talks begin in late November in Paris. The United Nations brings countries together to try to figure out what to do about climate change. Among the thousands of academics, businesses, nonprofits and local officials from all over the world who will be attending, is Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
The official talks are between countries, but Reed said cities are an important part of the response to climate change.
“I believe at the end of the day that the leaders on climate change are going to be mayors and local leaders,” he said.
In Atlanta, Reed is pushing for bicycle infrastructure. The city is adding electric vehicles to its fleet. New city-owned buildings have to be certified sustainable by the building standard known as LEED. There’s a program here, called the Better Buildings Challenge, encouraging businesses to be more energy efficient. And a new city law says big commercial buildings must track their energy and water use.
Reed said Atlanta is a regional leader on climate change. And he sees this not only as a moral imperative, but also an opportunity to promote the city because, he said, many international companies want to show they’re doing something.
“I think it does make us more attractive to foreign direct investment,” he said.
But while the city is emphasizing green building, Georgia lawmakers have effectively banned state-owned buildings from pursuing sustainable LEED certification. Last week, the state sued to stop President Barack Obama’s marquee climate policy, known as the Clean Power Plan. And many Georgia lawmakers are still skeptical that climate change is caused by humans.
“Hostile agnosticism is their attitude,” said Neill Herring, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club in Georgia.
He said he’s glad the mayor is going to Paris, and he thinks the work the city is doing on buildings and transportation makes sense.
“Addressing a lot of these energy issues, the cities are a natural venue,” he said.
Some state agencies are starting to take climate change into account. For instance, the Department of Natural Resources weighs potential threats to wildlife from climate change. And the Georgia Environmental Protection Division is studying how to implement the Clean Power Plan, even as the attorney general’s office sues to block it.
Reed said he’s taking a long view.
“I understand what political environment I’m in. I know exactly what state I’m in, I know exactly what the politics of the state are,” he said. “And so at the end of the day, when I look into the face of my family, the question is, what did you do where you were with the tools that were available to you?”
Reed’s trip to Paris is sponsored by a group of nonprofits that are sending a dozen mayors to the climate talks in hopes of influencing climate policy, one city at a time.