My update to Mayor Bill Peduto

Here is the update that I shared with Mayor Bill Peduto upon returning to Pittsburgh…

Comments to Mayor and Team RE: World Summit Climate & Territories:

High Level Summary

  • The energy around sub-national coordination was palpable and significant progress was represented by the various agreements on display. (Michael Bloomberg spoke via video feed at the event, and followed up with this excellent summary piece in the Huffington Post.) Major initiatives include:

    • Under 2 MOU: “The MOU’s shared goal of limiting greenhouse gas emissions to 2 tons per capita, or 80-95% below 1990 level by 2050.”

    • Mayor’s National Climate Action Agenda is campaigning to push Obama and the U.S. negotiators towards strong climate action at COP21 in Paris.

    • Covenant of Mayors signatories (primarily in Europe) commit to 20% CO2 reduction below 1990 levels by 2020. 6450 signatories.

    • Compact of Mayors – (Pgh already listed!) Coalition of city leaders committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Data reporting via CDP ( and carbonn Climate Registry ( 84 cities listed.

  • Depending on how you measure, we have between zero and 21 years of current emissions remaining to keep a safe climate. I personally trust a more strict range of zero to 6 years. We must immediately get on a path towards 100% decarbonization. The scientific and moral arguments could not be clearer.

    • The general messaging at the WSCT conference focused on keeping the planet below 2°C of warming, though from occasional speaker comments, side-discussions, and my own research, it is clear that people generally regard 2°C as inadequate and instead support 1.5°C or lower as a safe limit. Widely respected ex-NASA scientist James Hansen reports that a 1°C limit is the maximum safe limit. The problem with anything lower than 2°C is that current national commitments from nations put us at roughly 3.1°C of warming by 2100. Furthermore, if we wish to keep below 1.5°C, we have only 6 years of global current emissions remaining (according to this assessment).

  • I witnessed significant activity around exploration of how to leverage a national-level agreement at COP21 into mechanisms to support local (i.e. city-level) funding for climate mitigation and adaptation. I imagine these types of mechanisms could present the primary potential benefit to Pittsburgh of the COP21 proceedings.

  • There will be a “Climate Summit for Local Leaders” during COP21 co-chaired by Anne Hidalgo (Mayor of Paris) and Michael Bloomberg (UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change). If invited, this could be an incredible opportunity to show support for the proceedings. The event takes place on December 4, 2015. More information here.

Detailed Summary and Assessments

  • As an activist I would always encourage you embrace the strongest possible CO2 reductions goals, equal to the challenge set forth by the science. That said, if I put my “city representative” hat on, things are obviously more complex, and I must admit that I don’t have great information about how different city cultures respond to varying strengths of CO2 reductions goals. Portland has strong goals and we could connect with them (see next bullet) but they have a very different cultural make-up. Burlington, Vermont also has set and achieved very strong goals (already 100% renewable: article), but again, is supported by a very different culture. At the very least, it makes sense to me to leap into opportunities highlighted as cost effective on the McKinsey Global Greenhouse Gas Abatement Cost Curve. Generally speaking, the science supports moving faster than it is comfortable on the CO2 reduction front. It is also difficult to support a morally defensible level of CO2 reduction if our local economy is heavily dependent upon fossil fuels (including natural gas). The quickest path to morally defensible advocacy and leadership from a global city perspective is total decarbonization, optimally within the next 6 years, followed by active carbon removal plans (via agricultural and forestry methods)–combined with mitigation and job transition programs. I would be happy to discuss this further with you in person.

  • I didn’t encounter a lot of city reps there in the categories requested. That said, I met James Alexander (Head, Finance and Economic Development Initiative, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.) and he would be happy to connect us to Portland for some insights on strong carbon reduction goals. James also would be happy to connect us with people in Washington DC who are apparently pursuing a plan for “stormwater runoff credit trading.”

  • I learned that there is a solar thermal district heating project in Denmark that sounds very interesting, particularly given our district heating plans in Pittsburgh. It appears that details can be found here: .

  • I found some information documenting what it would take to keep below 2°C, with some extrapolations for staying below 1.5°C. A handy graphic representing “years left of current emissions” to reach 1.5, 2, and 3°C can be found here (I’ll also paste it below):, with data referenced from here: . I did some additional extrapolation via my own research to come up with a temperature slide that I’ll also include (though I haven’t vetted it with any experts, so that caveat applies strongly :-). My graphic with explanation can be found here (graphic also below): . In short, anything less than actively removing carbon from the atmosphere puts us in a danger zone, as the CO2 already in the atmosphere sets us on a course for more than 1°C by 2055 (and 1°C is regarded as the limit or safety by ex-NASA climate scientist James Hansen). This is also approximately represented in the name chosen for the group, which seeks to get us down to the “safe” level of 350ppm CO2 (down from our current ~400ppm). Another excellent assessment that focuses on government commitments vs. a 2°C goal that *is* vetted by an abundance of experts can be found here: . Read through the whole site for a full dose of their methods and results. It is *very* informative.

  • There may be synergies available with the Climate and Clean Air Coalition – working to reduce short-term climate change and air pollution while improving public health, food security, and energy efficiency. (Paraphrased from their brochure). I briefly met the org’s leader, Helena Molin Valdés.

  • I learned of an Earth Hour City Challenge program. It could be a way to upgrade our current participation in Earth Hour: .

  • I was able to make a public statement in a breakout session (focused on Decentralised Cooperations and Territorial Partnerships) advocating for open data. I was able to announce my name and city of Pittsburgh, resulting in a few people approaching me afterwards. No major data sharing inquiries, however, surfaced at the event, but my comment received applause. It seems that other cities/regions would find value in this as well.

  • European Covenant of Mayors – members have committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% below 1990 levels by 2020. (Probably only eligible to EU mayors. 6450 signatories.)

  • Climate Alliance (of European Cities with Indigenous Rainforest Peoples) – Cities/municipalities/districts committing to CO2 emissions reduced by 10% every five years and ½ per-capita emissions by 2030 (below 1990 levels) + preserve tropical rainforests. (European. 1,700+ signatories.)

  • There was an abundance of messaging around the vital role of sub-national entities to drive a strong agreement (and ultimately, strong progress) towards the COP21 goal of 2°C.

  • There was also a lot of discussion around North-South, North-South-South, and South-South partnerships to address sustainable development challenges. What are the partnerships that Pittsburgh is involved with? There could be partnerships available in India and/or China around air quality + climate change adjustments. Possibly even with African or South American cities, too. I haven’t gotten my head around the full-circle benefit equation, but there was a lot of discussion about this.

  • The “Solutions Gateway” appears to be an interesting (albeit young) repository of low carbon solutions: .

  • Many groups are looking to receive payment for sustainability projects through GHG emissions taxes and/or fees. Is Pittsburgh exploring this funding mechanism?

  • ICLEI encouraged participants to add to the Non-State Actors Zone for Climate Action Platform (NAZCA) database.

  • Applications for the Transformative Actions Program (TAP) must be in by August 15.



Details about the thermometer slide above can be found at my blog:

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