Q&A: Oakland mayor on her commitment to Paris climate pact

Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland, Calif., is one of dozens of mayors who have joined the US Climate Alliance after President Trump announced the US withdrawal from the Paris accord June 1.

Eric Risberg/AP
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf gestures during a rally at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., March 25, 2017.

How plausible is it that the US Climate Alliance can meet the Paris targets by itself?

It is absolutely feasible. More than 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions on this planet come out of cities and that number’s going to only increase as more and more of the population is moving to cities. This is the first time that a majority of people on this planet lives in cities, and trends show that number is going to be greater and greater. Cities are the home of industries, of civil society. This is where we absolutely make real change. Oakland is a great example. We've reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 14 percent since 2005. That is tangible.

What specific things would the Alliance need to do to hit those targets?

You bring mayors together. You bring what we call the sub-national government together. When I was in Paris when those accords were agreed to, there was an entire day devoted to cities. And I stood with 500 mayors from around the world who signed on to a global compact of mayors. We’re seeing more and more efforts, through the leadership of Mayor Bloomberg or the Rockefeller Foundation. Organizations are recognizing that by pulling cities together and allowing them to learn from each other, we will have global impact.

Cities in California meet regularly with a number of cities from China to share some of our best practices. Cities in China are interested in what cities in California are doing to address this pressing crisis. And obviously, I could not be more proud of my governor, Jerry Brown. California’s ability to lead and California’s ability to be the center of climate-change innovation and clean energy is an inspirational example to the rest of the world. And the impact of California will help make up for the ignorance of this president.

Is actually meeting the targets priority No. 1 here, or is the symbolism of the effort more important than – or at least as important as – concrete results?

Now is not the time for symbolism. It’s the time for action. Particularly for a coastal city like Oakland, where we’re seeing extreme weather patterns. We’ve seen sea level rise. We know that these impacts hurt our vulnerable populations first and hardest. This is not science fiction, this present day reality.

What challenges do you expect the Alliance will face as it tries to hit these targets?

I’m fortunate to live in a community that believes in science and cares about future generations. Certainly, in the Bay Area, the political will and resources are here. I think our challenge will be helping developing countries make the appropriate investments faster and more dramatic impacts on climate action.

But I have to say, the president’s short-sightedness and just offensive breaking of a promise that this country made with the rest of the world is really inspiring others to step forward into the void of leadership that he has left. I believe in some ways his action is going to inspire more philanthropists, more industrial leaders to come out and say, "We as Americans are not breaking our promise."

I hope that the alliance serves as an inspirational model about the power that we each have as individuals, as leaders of the local and state level, and as leaders outside of government, that there are tremendous things that we can do that are consistent with our values. And that even the president of the US cannot stop us.

I just will add one last thing: I am concerned about the polarization that is happening in America and I hope that this alliance leads with values and works in a way that brings people back together. That’s just me personally talking.

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