CHICAGO — President Trump ditched the Paris Agreement, but dozens of U.S. mayors, including Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, signed their own climate accord Tuesday, vowing to do their part in cutting the nation’s greenhouse emissions.
"I'm proud to represent the people of Portland's commitment to the challenge of climate change and sign the #ChicagoCharter with my fellow @c40cities' Mayors. #cities4climate #wearestillin," tweeted Wheeler from Chicago.
USA TODAY has obtained a draft of the “Chicago Charter,” an agreement that at least 36 U.S. cities were slated to sign Tuesday at the North American Climate Summit in Chicago.
The agreement lays out the framework for how some of the country’s municipalities plan to reach goals to reduce greenhouse emission and monitor each others progress — objectives similar to what the Paris international climate pact strives to achieve.
“Each mayor is going to sign their own customized plan on how they are going to achieve the 2025 Paris Agreement,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is hosting the climate summit, told USA TODAY. “We’re all going to get to the same destination in our own individual way. It’s designed in such a way that it’s measurable.”
Among the highlights of what cities — including Portland, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington — plan to do are to reduce greenhouse gas emission by up to 28% and also to track each city's goals. The results will be shared with the public.
Trump, who has expressed skepticism about the scientific consensus on climate change and more generally chafes at the notion of international agreements, announced in June that he was withdrawing the U.S. from the climate accord.
His decision led many state and local leaders to vow to take action into their own hands.
Many big city American mayors pilloried Trump as being shortsighted. The president criticized the climate accord, which sets the goal of holding global warming below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, as an example of a deal “that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries.”
Technically, the U.S. can’t give notice of its departure from the non-binding agreement until November 2019 under terms agreed upon when the pact was negotiated in 2015. Syria announced last month that it would join the accord, leaving the U.S. as the only country out of the agreement once it can formally withdraw.
Since Trump’s announcement, more than 380 mayors — whose cities collectively include about 68 million residents — have vowed to uphold the goals of Paris. Former President Obama, who signed the Paris Agreement, is scheduled to address the mayors at the summit Tuesday.
Among the 380 were many Oregon mayors, including Wheeler, Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa, Beaverton Mayor Denny Dole, Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber, Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis, Gladstone Mayor Tammy Stempel, Hood River Mayor Paul Blackburn, Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba, Mosier Mayor Arlene Burns, Rockaway Beach Mayor Joanne Aagaard, Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett and Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said that the Chicago Charter is more than symbolic and that it will help municipal leaders track and share information on what efforts are having the most impact on reducing carbon emissions.
Although cities leaders believe their collective efforts can help the U.S. meet the previously-agreed upon benchmark, Biskupski said that the municipal officials need federal commitment on stemming climate change.
"This leadership role has evolved very quickly because it has had to," Biskupski said. "It does not mean that at some point we're not going to needs some help from the federal government. I believe we will. But in the meantime, while we're under this current administration we have to make progress and we have to have to make sure we're tracking this progress, so that we can meet these significant goals."
Even before the Paris Agreement was hatched, officials in many large American cities were framing the need to cut carbon emissions as a practical effort to keep their economies competitive and their residents happy.
Wheeler tweeted in December that "Portland has achieved significant declines in emissions; total emissions are 21% below 1990 levels while at the same time we’ve had an increase in population by 33% and an increase in the number of jobs by 24%."
In Salt Lake City, which has seen warming at twice the global average that threatens the region's $1 billion ski industry, city officials have set a goal of relying on renewable energy for 50% of municipal operations by 2020 and generating 100% of the community’s electric supply through renewable energy by 2032.
Washington, D.C. has set a goal of using renewables to meet 50% of its energy supply by 2032. Mayor Muriel Bowser has touted a 20-year agreement to purchase the entire output of a 46-megawatt wind farm in southwestern Pennsylvania as a move that will save District residents $45 million, while removing the carbon emissions of the equivalent of 18,000 cars per year.
In Chicago, Emanuel says the city is already about 40% toward meeting its 2025 goals. The city got a head start by closing its last two coal plants in 2012, and has retrofitted more than 54 million square feet of office building more energy efficient.
Emanuel has also highlighted investment into the city’s mass transit system — the Chicago is in the midst of a several billion dollar modernization of effort of the Chicago Transit Authority — as well as building bike lines and expansion of the city’s bike sharing system in making the pitch on the livability of the city when pitching large corporations to relocate.
"It would be better to have a national partner rather than fighting against the current...of an administration that is openly hostile to smart policies," Emanuel said.
Some environmental activists say that the mayors deserve credit for trying to pick up the slack from the Trump administration on reducing carbon emissions. But the cities’ mayors need to do more to address the disproportionate health burdens in their low-income and minority communities impacted by climate change, activists say.
The draft charter includes language nodding to such criticism and highlighting the need to include “voices that have not been traditionally a part of discussions regarding climate change.”
“This is only an opportunity if there is a true commitment on the part of cities,” said Naomi Davis, an environmental activist with the group Blacks in Green. “We have to ask, ‘Is there a true commitment and what’s the evidence of it?’ So far we haven’t seen it.”