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Rocky Anderson

10 May 2005
Rocky Anderson

Mayor of Salt Lake City, Rocky Anderson was integral to convening 46 US Mayors at the Sundance Summit to address climate change in 2005. Here he talks to The Climate Group about how Salt Lake City is reducing its emissions and why cities have a crucial role to play in climate change mitigation.

On a personal level, what is your interest in climate change?

I've had an intense interest in this issue for many years. I read Al Gore's book "Earth in the Balance" soon after it first came out and was alarmed at both the situation relating to global warming and the destruction of the ozone layer. Over the years, as we've seen the international community come together under the Montreal accords and solve the ozone problem, it's been alarming to me that we haven't seen the same approach with climate change, particularly with regard to the United States policy. So this was something, even before I was Mayor, that I was very concerned about, urging our elected officials to start focusing on the problem and planning solutions, both energy conservation and finding alternative sources of energy and alternative fuels.

How has this interest inspired action in Salt Lake City?

It is clear to me that anybody in a leadership position has a responsibility to help provide solutions to this global disaster that we're facing. So, as Mayor of Salt Lake City, I feel that it is my duty that this city does everything it can to combat climate change. By doing so, we provide an example for other municipalities, businesses and individuals, demonstrating that it is possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, in many instances, save money.

When did climate change become a priority for Salt Lake City?

I never heard anybody in Salt Lake City government talk about climate change before I was Mayor. This really comes from my office and those that we've been able to bring on in this administration to help us.

And do you think that climate change is a definite priority for the City now?

Climate change is one of our highest priorities. Before I was Mayor, this city had no one hired full time to deal with any environmental issues. We have now brought on two full time environmental specialists, and we have taken many actions to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, before the 2002 Olympic Games were held in Salt Lake City, I announced that in our municipal operations we would reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least according to the goals of the Kyoto accord. And although the United States did not sign up to Kyoto, we felt as a City that we needed that goal of a 7% reduction on 1990 levels by the year 2012. We're actually 76% of the way to reaching that goal already and it's only 2005.

How will Salt Lake City be affected by a changing climate?

Well, everybody's going to be affected by climate change. It's already is a worldwide phenomenon. Here, in Salt Lake City, there have already been documented climate change impacts. A new report entitled 'Less Snow, Less water - Climate Disruption in the West' issued a couple of weeks ago, concluded that: it's been hotter in recent years; the increase in temperature has been greater in the winter; we've had smaller snow packs; less groundwater and; more drought. One thing that's been interesting to me is that when we talk about the issue in terms of massive droughts around the world, millions of environmental refugees as the oceans rise, heat waves that, as in Europe several years ago, killed tens of thousands of people, disease spread and other impacts expected to get worse and worse over time, people's eyes glaze over. But when you mention that we may not have a ski industry in this area people are quite alarmed. That's why we urgently need to take every action that we can.

Do you see Salt Lake City as a role model for other cities?

Yes, we love going out and talking about the kind of things we've been able to do as a municipality and the great results that we've had including savings of tax payers' money.

Our emissions reduction achievements have come about through a number of activities - retrofitting our lighting in the City and County building, which in the first year saved $33,000 in energy expenses, for example. We used some of the cost savings to become Utah's largest wind energy purchaser. We've also converted our traffic lights to high efficiency LED lights which has saved $53,000 each year. One of the most significant greenhouse gas reductions has come through the capture of methane at our landfill and wastewater treatment plant. We've installed a co-regeneration facility there which is fuelled by the captured methane providing about half of the site's electricity. All of these programs save in excess of 16,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year.

We're doing a number of other things too, such as converting our fleet to alternative fuels. We've also been very aggressive with expanding our recycling programme. Recently I put in place an executive order requiring that all new buildings and main renovations operated and owned by the city will have to meet LEED requirements - high performance building standards, so that in the long term they'll use much less energy and the materials used will be environmentally sustainable. And then I'm seeking council approval of an ordinance that would provide incentives for others to build according to these standards as well.

How can cities lead on the issue?

In the United States cities are the leaders. We have essentially no leadership on a national level. Cities are doing amazing work in the United States and if cities can show successes, I think we're going to see more and more States engage on the issue. Ultimately, when we no longer have the Bush administration, I don't think there's any question that our country will join with the rest of the industrialised world in finding our own Kyoto and taking real, effective measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But in my view, and I think in the view of most scientists, we need to go far beyond the Kyoto goals if we're going to make a significant difference.

What is currently being done collectively by cities?

I think there's no doubt that cities can act together. We've seen it here in the United States. Recently Robert Redford, ICLEI and I sponsored 'The Sundance Summit - the Mayors Gathering on Climate Change' with 46 mayors from all over the country present. There was an incredible sense of unity at the summit and I think that was a pivotal point in terms of cities coming together to learn about these issues, hear what each other are doing and go back to their communities and try to do whatever can be done on a municipal level to reduce emissions.

As well as the Sundance Summit, there are 160 US and more than 650 global cities that have joined ICLEI's Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) Campaign, who are adopting policies and formulating measures to achieve quantifiable reductions in local GHG emissions. I think this clearly demonstrates, that as cities come together, they learn from each other and provide tremendous leadership that helps them inform others to do the right thing.

I think we're even going to see that in Utah to some degree. I have spoken to our Governor, Jon Huntsman Jr. like a broken record on this issue and I think that we will see some of the things done in our State Government that we have initiated as a city. But all of that has got to finally result in action being taken by our National Government.

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