Mayor Betsy Hodges joined mayors from around the world at the Vatican on Wednesday in signing a declaration forming a new alliance to take action addressing climate change and human trafficking.
The mayors and other leaders invited by Pope Francis for a two-day summit have pledged to be part of the Urban Sustainable Development Goals Alliance, which will officially launch in the fall before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris scheduled for Nov. 30–Dec. 11. Leaders will be discussing a new international agreement on climate to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.)
In an address before the mayors and other leaders, Pope Francis said he hopes the mayors will lead the way in pushing for action in Paris.
In his recent encyclical on the environment, the pope called for world leaders to come up with a unified vision to address the world’s most pressing environmental and social problems.
“Interdependence obliges us to think of one world with a common plan,” he wrote. “Yet the same ingenuity which has brought about enormous technological progress has so far proved incapable of finding effective way of dealing with grave environmental and social problems worldwide. A global consensus is essential for confronting the deeper problems, which cannot be resolved by unilateral actions on the part of individual countries.”
Hodges was one of nine U.S. mayors and the only one from the Midwest invited to attend the conference on climate change and modern slavery hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
The mayor and other Minneapolis leaders have been working on a number of initiatives to address juvenile sex trafficking and climate change. The city’s new Clean Energy Partnership with Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy — the first of its kind in the nation — is designed to help the city achieve environmental goals outlined in its Climate Action Plan, which calls for an 80 percent reduction in the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
“The picture I was able to get is how interwoven the international community is and how interwoven our cities around the world are in terms of impact — that the decisions we make in Minneapolis have an impact on things that happen in Ghana or things that happen in Honduras was really clear to see,” Hodges said during a conference call with reporters after the pope’s summit concluded.
She said energy consumption patterns in Minneapolis and other cities have a big impact on climate change, which is felt more profoundly in other places around the world than in Minneapolis right now.
Hodges said she will continue to lobby for new investments in the region’s transit system and clean energy economy. She said there’s also a big opportunity to create new jobs for young people in Minneapolis in sustainable development.
The mayor also said that leaders did not dwell on what to do about climate change deniers at the summit.
“Climate change deniers cast a pall on the conversation in the United States that as far as I can tell does not extend anywhere else in the world. Leaders are very clear that this is happening,” she said.
In the declaration forming the Urban Sustainable Development Goals Alliance, the leaders who gathered at the summit committed to taking immediate action: “Pope Francis called upon mayors to take leadership in overcoming the growing crisis of social exclusion, marginalization, and climate disruption. We, the mayors and others assembled in this symposium, have heard this call from Pope Francis and our own citizens. We recognize the threats to future generations. We must act now.”
The Urban Sustainable Development Goals Alliance has a broad and ambitious agenda, which includes identifying ways to decarbonize the energy system; ending human trafficking and all forms of modern slavery; and helping cities create sustainable development plans, among many other goals.
In an interview with the Associated Press, U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres said the December climate talks in Paris are the last chance for global leaders to take meaningful action to address the threats of climate change.
“Science is telling us that time is running out,” she said. “We do not play with this anymore. We are at five minutes to 12 and Paris is the 12 o’clock strike of the clock.”
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris is expected to draw about 40,000 participants — making it one of the world’s largest climate conferences ever organized.
The goal is to create a legally binding agreement among countries that will limit greenhouse gas emissions to keep a global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.
The U.S. State Department has submitted a climate plan with a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.