This week leaders from around the world will hear how they can combat climate change by following Washington's lead.
D.C. that is, not the federal government. The message will come from the mayor of the nation’s capital.
Mayor Muriel Bowser will address an international climate change conference in Mexico, telling her counterparts how Washington is leading the nation in efforts to reduce the city's carbon footprint.
Bowser will deliver her message as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office. The fact that Trump has questioned the science of climate change in the past is not lost on Bowser.
“I have the same responsibilities no matter who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.,” Bowser said.
Bowser and her top adviser on environmental issues, Tommy Wells, say the District can set an example for other big cities. The first thing Bowser pointed to was the District’s investment in alternative power sources.
“Not only solar, but wind energy as well,” Bowser said.
“We entered into an unprecedented agreement to energize D.C. government buildings that’s not only good for our environment, but it’s also good for our bottom line,” she said.
“We’re taking a lot of steps to reduce the production of greenhouse gasses,” Wells added. “We’ve reduced greenhouse gasses produced by our city by almost 23 percent since 2006.”
Bowser and Wells will travel to Mexico City for the C40 Mayors Summit. This will be the sixth time the international organization of mayors has held the event, which is geared toward sharing solutions to climate change.
“We’re having to learn from each other as fast as possible,” said Wells, who attended the summit last year in Paris. “In Washington, we’ve just released a report on how to prepare the city for major storm events like a derecho, or flooding, the kind of things that happen in climate change.”
Bowser said she knows having an incoming president who once tweeted that climate change is a “hoax” invented by the Chinese could mean challenges to local jurisdictions who have a different view.
“I’ll be among a group of American mayors who are staying the course," Bowser said. “We’re going forward. We’re not fighting science, we’re embracing it.”
Trump has stepped back from his “hoax” tweet, telling The New York Times there is “some connectivity” between manmade carbon emissions and climate change, but in the same interview, the president-elect left open the possibility he might withdraw the U.S. from international climate change agreements.
Bowser said Trump’s uncertainty on the issue is something she and other mayors are preparing for.
“A lot of Mr. Trump’s policies haven’t been well advanced, and so we don’t know exactly what a Trump administration will bring,” Bowser says.
Bowser and Wells said regardless of who is president, they will continue to push for a greener D.C. As part of that initiative, Bowser said she wants more residents and businesses to start using solar power.
“We don’t only want the well-to-do, who own big homes, to have solar but we want people who live in apartments, we want their property owners to be able to buy solar and pass those savings along to, to residents of those buildings as well." Bowser said. “So that is our real focus, making sure we make solar accessible to more people.”
The District has been successful in getting low income families connected with solar power, Wells said.
“When we first came into office, the mayor launched an initiative to put 150 solar arrays on homes for free for low-income folks so they could benefit and we’ve been doing that each year,” Wells said.
“We’ll be generating, over the next 16 years, potentially up to a half-billion dollars of investing in solar, just in D.C. Working with the council, the mayor has directed that this is primarily to benefit low-income residents in the District that as their power bills go up and need that support, that the solar investments be deployed on their behalf.”
While the world can learn from D.C.’s example, there is still more to prepare for, Bowser said.
“We are a city that embraces science and needs to be prepared for any changes in climate and its effect on us," she said. "Whether it’s a heatwave, which we saw in August, 90 degree days for almost three days in a row, which impacts our city; whether it’s the storm events -- that some are expected, some are unexpected -- and preparation for flooding. People of Washington expect that we’re going to take care of our city, no matter what.”