GSO passes US Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement

by Amy Kingsley

It was the weather – as much as anything – that weighed on Mayor Keith Holliday’s mind as he contemplated on Aug. 21 whether to support a nonbinding agreement to reduce Greensboro’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The past month is on track to be the hottest ever on record for the city, according to the state climate office. Average high temperatures have hovered around 95 degrees for the first three weeks, an official said, making this August substantially hotter than any since 1917. A severe drought has forced the Department of Water Resources to impose mandatory restrictions.

“It is ironic that this is coming to us on a week that is so hot,” Holliday said.

Coordinators of the Cool Cities campaign organized a showing several dozen strong. On cue, supporters of the measure rose from their chairs; their ranks included NC A&T University professor Robert Powell and Democratic state Rep. Pricey Harrison. The original proponents of the US Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement, who have been advocating its adoption for more than six months, made their case before council.

“With signing the US Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement,” said Kim Yarbray of the Cool Cities Group, “Greensboro will be able to step into a national community that says this is an important issue.”

Holliday and his cohorts on council agreed with Yarbray, and after a short debate, approved the measure – which aims to reduce emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels – unanimously. District 1 Representative Dianne Bellamy-Small and District 3 Representative Tom Phillips were absent. Supporters of the agreement greeted the vote with a standing ovation.

In considering the document, the mayor and City Manager Mitchell Johnson compared a number of agreements from other cities and chose to tailor the version for Greensboro. The city committed to conducting an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions to be completed by May 2008. After that, experts and staff members will come up with strategies to reduce the total in accordance with the agreement.

There had been some controversy about whether to edit the original language of the US Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement, a non-binding document patterned on the Kyoto Accords. The international pledge to reduce greenhouse gases was signed by 172 nations including all the members of the European Union, but not by the United States or Australia. Several North Carolina cities, including Asheville, Winston-Salem, Durham and Raleigh, have already signed the mayor’s agreement.

Phillips objected to references to the Kyoto Protocol in the agreement’s preamble, and Mike Barber, the District 4 representative, briefly advocated removing that language as well. After an e-mail and phone call blitz by supporters, the council – minus Phillips – approved the original document.

Powell, who works at NC A&T University’s Center for Energy Research and Technology, said the institute would partner with the city to conduct a greenhouse gas inventory. He cited a number of examples in the private sector where companies are incorporating efficiency into their business practices.

Powell said the next step would involve examining old utility bills to determine Greensboro’s energy usage in 1990. Staff members have not yet been in touch with him about a timeline for carrying out the inventory. Once a baseline level has been determined, the city needs to target wasteful energy usage to reach the goal of reducing emissions by 7 percent.

“Once you’ve found out where the energy is being used,” Powell said, “then you can figure out how to reduce it.”

Powell will determine energy usage by citizens and businesses by analyzing utility records and vehicle miles for the entire city of Greensboro.

For Yarbray, the process leading up to council’s approval of the measure was about much more than emissions reduction.

“It really felt great to have the citizens, city council and city manager come to one place,” she said. “We hope that the relationships that got formed during this process will continue to strengthen over the course of the project.”

Now that the council has approved the agreement, execution is in the city’s hands. Johnson set the inventory deadline on May 2008 in order to accommodate action related to the agreement in the next budget cycle, which starts in July.

“Greensboro is not playing catch-up,” Holliday said. “This city is leading the way.”

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