Greensboro to consider Kyoto protocols

by Amy Kingsley

In early 2005, 141 countries that signed the Kyoto Treaty started abiding by a law that would require them to reduce levels of carbon emissions by 7 percent from 1990 levels. The United States – a country with 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its carbon emissions – was not among them.

But a movement to adopt Kyoto guidelines has spread to include more than 400 municipalities all over the country – including nine in North Carolina. And activists concerned about clean air and global warming have brought the movement to the veritable gates of the Gate City.

Cool Cities is a campaign spearheaded by the Sierra Club to get city leaders from across the country to sign the US Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement. The non-binding contract directs city leaders to reduce carbon emissions by addressing 12 areas of concern. The goals are identical to the Kyoto Treaty’s.

The Greensboro Cool Cities group began meeting six months ago, said project coordinator Kim Yarbray. Recently the group started pitching the idea to members of the Greensboro City Council, who have, by and large, endorsed the initiative.

“I’m very excited about it,” said Florence Gatten, an at-large representative. “I watched An Inconvenient Truth and went to the website. I would so like Greensboro to be one of the cities involved in this.”

Gatten and Yvonne Johnson said they would support the agreement when it comes before council. Joel Landau, an activist with the campaign, said Mayor Keith Holliday and council members Goldie Wells and Sandy Carmany have also expressed support.

“Things today are so massive that this is really the way things happen,” Yarbray said about activism on the local level.

Although the campaign itself focuses on carbon emissions and global warming, its proponents in Greensboro have emphasized the fiscal benefits and improved air quality in their pitch to city leaders, Landau said.

“It’s irrelevant whether you believe in global warming,” Landau said, “because everybody believes in cleaner air and saving money.”

The US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement has 12 parts, and starts with the requirement that cities inventory their carbon emissions and create an action plan. That stipulation, Landau said, is the one that most often becomes a stumbling block for cities that do not have the resources the study global warming emissions.

The organizers of Greensboro’s campaign circumvented that problem by contacting an urban planning professor at UNC-Chapel Hill who has pledged to help the city develop a university partnership. That way students and professors at local colleges could inventory the city’s emissions at no cost to taxpayers. Landau said as yet no schools have committed to the project, but that the group is talking with professors at NC A&T, Guilford College and UNCG.

Such a partnership would also address the challenge of educating residents of the community about environmental issues, Yarbray said.

“When I first started this I didn’t realize all the ways that energy comes to us and the ways we use it,” Yarbray said. “Now my eyes are open, so I’m making changes in my own life.”

The agreement requires cities to implement land-use policies that reduce sprawl, preserve open space and create compact urban communities. The Piedmont Triad ranked as the second most sprawling community in America according to a 2002 study by Smart Growth America. The city has adopted a comprehensive plan with many of the same goals as the USMCPA, Gatten said.

The city has a head start on several of the agreement’s other stipulations as well. City employees have changed several traffic signals from inefficient incandescent lights to LEDs, which use less energy. Gary Smith in the transportation department won an award for using biodiesel to fuel city vehicles.

“When we first started this six months ago we had no idea what we were going to find,” Yarbray said. “It’s been so impressive what the city is already doing. And so many of the ideas have come from city employees just trying to make Greensboro a better place.”

Mayor Holliday directed Yarbray and the other activists to meet with City Manager Mitchell Johnson and other employees to determine the best way to submit the agreement to council. Landau and Yarbray said in those meetings the employees have been receptive and helpful.

Other parts of the agreement pertain to city planning, waste-to-energy programs, green building codes and appliances. Cities that sign on agree to use only Energy Star equipment, improve energy efficiency in municipal buildings, promote alternative transportation and conserve fuel in the city fleet. Such changes would reduce the city’s energy costs as well as reducing carbon and other emissions that pollute the air.

“It’s a dollars and cents decision,” Yarbray said. “This list has many small things we can do to save energy and save money.”

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