In Paris, Reed makes case for how cities can lead on climate change

PARIS — Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, in Paris this week with thousands of other leaders concerned about climate change, says cities can play a significant role in addressing global warming.

Atlanta already has enacted significant sustainability measures, he notes, including requiring large-scale commercial property owners to track energy and water usage; pledging to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020; adding electric vehicles to its city fleet; and pursuing a solar energy program for municipal buildings.

While Reed isn’t part of negotiations held at the official United Nations summit, he traveled to France to participate in gatherings of mayors and regional leaders being held in tandem with the international talks.

Friday’s Climate Summit for Local Leaders, led by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and U.N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change Michael Bloomberg, highlighted what city leaders can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption.

The message is especially meaningful in states like Georgia, which still lacks agreement by top officials on the nature and threat of global warming.

“We’re taking on the issue of climate action right now, and we’re trying to act in a decisive manner,” said Reed, in between sessions at Paris City Hall.

But asked what state leaders should do on climate issues, Reed — known for his positive relationship with Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and members of the legislature — was circumspect.

“I think we have the leadership in place if they want to act, but I’m not really focused on what other people are doing,” Reed said. “As long as the state structure isn’t an impediment to municipal action, I think we can accomplish quite a lot.”

Friday’s local leaders summit, one of several events that Reed’s attending while here, attracted nearly 400 mayors from across the U.S. and the world, according to its organizers. Many, like Reed, have signed the “Compact of Mayors,” an agreement to enact policy changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and track the results.

French President Francois Hollande spoke at the event, thanking local officials for coming despite the Nov. 13 terror attacks in his country. Several Democratic U.S. senators came to rally behind President Barack Obama’s climate agenda, which is facing opposition from Senate Republicans.

» ONLY ON MYAJC: The AJC's Katie Leslie and Gracie Bonds Staples share their own Paris experiences

Also speaking were technology bigwigs, political heavyweights and Hollywood celebrities, including Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Redford. That’s to say nothing of the countless climate change scientists and environmental leaders in the crowd.

“This is the Disney World for climate geeks,” said Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, a former state legislator who now serves as Reed’s sustainability director.

Benfield was in her element as she swapped business cards with politicians and environmental movers and shakers from around the globe, a networking of grand order against the backdrop of Paris City Hall’s Versailles-like architecture.

She said she hoped to score 30 seconds with Bloomberg — former New York mayor — while here to ask him to fund a project manager position for Atlanta’s new solar energy program. As of Friday, she had been unsuccessful in cornering the magnate. She came close earlier, only to have Bloomberg whisked away.

“I had my pitch ready and a mayor from Jordan totally intercepted,” she lamented.

Benfield said she hopes the summit will lead to even greater discussions with like-minds about ways cities can work together on environmental issues.

She also noted that Georgia, despite its lack of accord on the source of global warming, has taken some significant steps. Earlier this year, the state legislature passed House Bill 57, the Solar Power Free Market Financing Act, which makes it more affordable for Georgia homeowners and small businesses to put solar panels on their rooftops.

“You don’t have to embrace climate change to make progress,” she said.

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