Councilman Zeke Cohen surrounded by youth and environmental leaders in support of the city’s climate resolution.

At first glance, the Paris Climate Agreement resolution that the Baltimore City Council passed this week may seem perfunctory. After all, cities from Pittsburgh to Paris have voiced their opposition to President Trump’s anti-climate decision and pledged to support the global agreement.

And yet, the Baltimore City Council’s unanimously approved climate resolution is a new road map for how our city’s government plans to tackle climate change for every zip code. Half of the council’s members are newly elected, and it seems as though they’re already changing things up a bit.

Two components are important about this resolution: Firstly, it sets forth a detailed list of sustainability actions the city will address for all neighborhoods, especially those that were heavily polluted during our town’s industrial phase. Secondly, this resolution was developed by a newly formed public, private and nonprofit coalition.

We’ve reported on the Inner Harbor cleanup, workforce and stream restoration partnerships that are making Charm City better. Hopefully, this new effort will add to that bright list. 

The climate alarm is ringing because this map is red all over. Our planet’s temperature rise is two-thirds (0.95°C) to the 1.5°C “we’re cooked” benchmark set forth by scientists. Source: NOAA

The Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2015 by 195 countries. The pact commits each country to lower its collective greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep global temperature rise to 1.5º C. Our planet has warmed up 0.95º C. Thanks to President Trump, the U.S. now joins Syria and Nicaragua as the only three non-participating countries.

Thirteen-year-old Kallan Benson brought 1,554 kids’ signatures to the City Council climate vote. The signatures were collected since Trump’s election. Her message: “Don’t give us a broken planet.” 

Opposing Trump’s action, Councilman Zeke Cohen sponsored the resolution.

“As a social studies teacher at Curtis Bay Elementary, I saw firsthand the negative health consequences my students lived with everyday due to high rates of air pollution,” he said. “Baltimore’s asthma rates are double the national average. Baltimore needs to be our own champion. We are unique and have laid out out our own achievable goals to support the Paris Climate Agreement.”

Joining the City Council in support is a robust collective of environmental, youth, labor and public health groups. 

Since February 2017, Tamara Toles O’Laughlin has been leading the Maryland Environmental Health Network.

“This resolution is a road map for Baltimore to leave our industrial shadow and move toward a 100 percent renewable future,” she said.

According to O’Laughlin, each goal is tied to a specific Baltimore City department.

The Council Resolution Commits to…

  • Achieving 100 percent renewable electricity supply by 2050.
  • Limiting the expansion of crude ‘oil bomb’ train port facilities.
  • Prioritizing municipal use of non-toxic cleaning products to protect waterways.
  • Disincentivizing waste-to-energy incineration to reduce unhealthy pollution. (Did you know Baltimore’s largest carbon dioxide pollution source is Wheelabrator’s trash incinerator by M&T Bank Stadium?)
  • Investing in multi-modal transportation that helps residents from every zip code.
  • Implementing food and yard waste composting.
  • Eliminating food deserts and offering healthy, sustainable food supplies through local agriculture and markets.
  • Reducing the energy burden on limited income households.
  • Eleven more sustainable strategies can be found here.

Coalitions Work

Another shift that bodes well for Baltimore is the united group of nonprofits that crafted this climate resolution. The extensive Don’t Frack Maryland coalition behind the 2017 fracking ban proved success comes when teams unify around one plan.

Last Monday’s pre-vote press conference was led by an energized group of smart kids. And behind our next generation is a unified team of local nonprofits that know how to get stuff done. Bringing everyone’s talents to one table will be critical for success.

The Maryland Environmental Health Network spearheaded writing the resolution and collaborated with: Baltimore People’s Climate Movement, Healthy Communities, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Energy Justice Network, Maryland Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Blue Water Baltimore, Baltimore Beyond Plastics, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, United Workers, Interfaith Power and Light, the Environmental Integrity Project, the Maryland Arts Council and Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition. More will follow. 

The more difficult part will be making intentions and words translate into action. Given a new City Council team and an organized ‘climate coalition’ that has Mayor Pugh’s support, Baltimore may be on the path to becoming part of the climate solution. Let’s hope so, because climate change is affecting Baltimore today.

Avatar photo

Laurel Peltier

Laurel Peltier writes the environment GreenLaurel column every Thursday in the Baltimore Fishbowl.