AZ Central: As cities take the lead in climate action, Phoenix leaders will attend Glasgow conference

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Councilwoman Yassamin Ansari will attend the United Nation’s climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, this week, as global leaders confront the growing threat of a warming planet.

Gallego and Ansari plan to meet with local officials from all over the world and discuss topics such as water conservation, electric vehicle accessibility, heat mitigation and the role of cities in addressing climate change.  

This year’s conference, known as COP26, is considered especially important after a U.N. report found the world is locked into some climate impacts, like extreme heat and drought, which will grow worse for at least the next 30 years. 

Gallego and Ansari’s attendance underscores how Arizona’s cities have taken a lead role in addressing climate change and environment related issues at a time when the state has offered few new ideas. 

Earlier this month, Phoenix established one of the country’s first offices on heat response and mitigation. Flagstaff, Phoenix, Tucson and Tempe all have created climate action plans to layout concrete and measurable goals to reduce emissions.  

Arizona has no recent statewide climate action plan. The state was part of a regional climate initiative more than a decade ago, but it was largely abandoned. Gov. Doug Ducey will not be attending the Glasgow conference, according to a spokesperson.  

Almost 1,000 cities worldwide and more than 100 American cities are pledging net zero emissions by 2050 in a “Cities Race to Zero” campaign by C40 Cities, a network of cities across the globe, according to Gallego. 

“In many ways, this is the first global event of its type where cities are given a prominent role in the solution,” Gallego said. “We can be a huge part of achieving global goals. The United Nations and C40 have been very focused on what cities can contribute to solutions.” 

C40 Cities, for which Gallego serves as the North American vice chair, aims to share ideas and policies about how to make cities more sustainable and encourages mayors to take an active role in tackling the climate crisis. 

It represents “almost 100 cities across the globe with a population north of 700 million. And we are responsible, I’m proud to say, for more than a quarter of global wealth. So we’re really important,” said incoming C40 Chair and London mayor Sadiq Khan in an interview with the Washington Post this month. 

COP26 will offer both a private “blue zone” for diplomats to conduct international negotiations over climate change agreements and actions and a public “green zone” for other elected officials, climate activists, academics and business leaders to share ideas.  

“COP is very open to anyone who wants to go,” Ansari said. “The objective of the conference for many years now has been for it to be as open and accessible as possible, just given that the climate crisis is an issue that affects everyone.” 

Gallego and Ansari will attend both green and blue zone events. Gallego plans to speak about several environment-related initiatives in Phoenix, including a cool pavement program that reduces surface temperatures 10 to 12 degrees, and the city’s Office of Heat Response and Mitigation. 

“Sometimes Phoenix is known as a retirement community or other inaccurate stereotypes,” Gallego said. “We are a global hub of semiconductor investment right now. That will be key to clean technology. And I want to tell that story globally.” 

Gallego and Ansari have both long been interested in the environment and climate change. Gallego received her bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and has made climate change a part of her platform since running for elected office. 

Ansari worked as a climate advisor to the United Nations, organizing several climate summits herself, before getting elected to Phoenix City Council.  

The City of Phoenix devoted $2.8 million in funding to climate change and environment-related issues, the same amount dedicated to affordable housing and homelessness, and more than what the city reserved for COVID-19 relief efforts. The money will fund 14 new positions, including the Office of Heat Response and Mitigation, provide modeling and analysis of Phoenix’s air quality, plant additional trees and other initiatives. 

Ansari praised Phoenix, Tempe and Flagstaff specifically for leading on climate action in Arizona. 

“We have strong leaders in each of these cities who recognize the urgency of the climate crisis, not just as a global issue, but how it affects people’s lives and livelihoods right here at home,” Ansari said. 

“I also think that people are recognizing those threads,” she said. Issues like air pollution came up frequently during Ansari’s council campaign and residents continue to voice concerns. 

Environmental justice will be a topic of conversation at COP26 for several reasons. indigenous people have called for a greater voice in the conference and future climate action plans.  

Rich countries also promised to give poor countries $100 billion in aid per year starting in 2020 to fight climate change, recognizing that rich countries are responsible for a majority of greenhouse gas emissions even though climate change will disproportionately affect poor countries. 

The pledge was made more than a decade ago and enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, but the countries have fallen short of that goal thus far. 

Ansari said environmental justice will be important not only for low-income countries but for her constituents as well. She represents District 7, where some areas are found to be 10 degrees warmer than others depending on how much concrete and asphalt exist in the area instead of trees and grass, which can lower temperatures.  

“It’s very interesting … certain countries are facing environmental racism and dealing with the impacts of the climate crisis created by developed countries, but then we also see it at the local level as well,” she said. 

While Ansari said she wished the state of Arizona would take a more active role in climate leadership, cities are “absolutely crucial” in the absence of state leadership.  

“With cities, you are making a lot of decisions on an everyday basis that have to do with transportation, or have to do with new development projects,” Ansari said. “There are just so many decisions that we’re making where if you have climate and sustainability in mind, you can make better choices and make a dent in the problem.” 

Read this article on AZ Central.



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