While President Donald Trump spends his time tweeting and abandoning America’s commitment to the Paris Agreement, mayors have been hard at work taking the lead on climate change. This week, mayors from around the world met at a summit in Chicago to sign their own climate agreement, and former President Barack Obama was there to cheer them on.
This was the first North American Climate Summit, a gathering of more than 45 mayors from around the world, including Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. At the summit, mayors doubled down on their commitment to uphold the goals of the Paris agreement by signing the Chicago Climate Charter, which lists concrete actions cities can take to make up for their president’s unwillingness to support international climate action.
Obama was present at the event, and he spoke highly of the world’s mayors and the way they get work done: through action, not words.
“That mindset, a mindset that isn’t arguing politics but, rather, is grounded in facts and actual events and impacts on people, that mindset is exactly what is needed at the moment when we think about climate change,” he said, in reference to mayors at the summit.
Some might have understood his words as a compliment to the mayors in attendance, who came from the U.S., Mexico, Canada, and even France. Others might think he was hinting at his successor, who does quite a bit of talking.
The charter the mayors signed calls out the Paris Agreement by name, as well as Trump’s decision to withdraw from it.
Some of its goals include reducing greenhouse gas emissions by levels either equal to or greater than the Nationally Determined Contributions outlined in the Paris Agreement. For the U.S., that’s 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The charter also asks cities to quantify, track, and publicly disclose their emissions. And there’s a clause to require cities to start planning accordingly for climate change—in the form of infrastructure and emergency planning.
Most notably, perhaps, is the charter’s explicit intent to include “voices that have not been traditionally a part of discussions regarding climate change.” This includes indigenous people, people of color, women, people with disabilities, and anyone else who falls under the umbrella of “socially and economically marginalized.”
This isn’t the first time mayors have rallied together in opposition to Trump and in support of climate action. (Remember the Climate Mayors and the We Are Still In coalition?) However, it is the first time Obama attended one of their gatherings. And he made quite the presence at the event, mentioning the climate impacts the U.S. is seeing today: like Miami’s flooding or Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts post-Hurricane Maria.
But Obama also hinted at the hope, the potential future that drives us, that pushes us to strive for a safer and more secure world. He reminded us why agreements like these—though not legally enforceable—are necessary to ensure today’s children, and their children, have a planet to call home.
“The thing you want to make sure of is that your kids and their kids are going to be OK,” the former president said. “And the one thing that might make it not OK for them is [climate change].”
As for next steps? That’s not yet clear. Each city will decide how it’ll meet the goals outlined in the charter. The idea is that they’d all convene every year, but the City of Chicago doesn’t yet know what that’ll look like, spokesperson Lauren Markowitz, told Earther.
What the mayors do know is that they have to take climate action. While that’ll look substantially different for each city, they now have each other to hold accountable.