Commentary: U.N. conference puts Utah’s climate action on the world stage

For the first time ever, a United Nations conference on U.S. soil is being held outside of New York City — right here in Salt Lake. The U.N. Civil Society Conference, running Aug. 26-28, is all about building inclusive and sustainable cities and communities, and provides a venue to discuss community action on climate change.

In picking Salt Lake, Alison Smale, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, said, “I was struck by the rapid growth and innovation there, symbolized by the construction cranes dotting the beautiful mountain landscape, and by the sense of opportunity as young people flock to the region for its educational and job offerings. It is a great setting for a global conversation on inclusion and sustainability in cities and communities of all sizes.”

Hosting this conference is a testament to the vision of Salt Lake City and its residents who continue to speak up and support building sustainable communities that can both thrive economically and be part of the solution to climate change. In 2016, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski proposed, and the City Council adopted, a resolution committing the city to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. A number of initiatives are in progress to achieve this goal, from increasing electric vehicle infrastructure to transitioning to 100% renewable energy for SLC residents.

But the conversation on what it means to be an effective leader on climate change in Utah isn’t limited to Salt Lake City or this conference.

The Utah Legislature is slowly becoming a national example of bipartisan action on sustainability. This is largely due to the fact that economic growth and environmental stewardship are no longer de facto foes. Technologies that help to reduce carbon emissions are increasingly affordable and have spurred a clean economy sector that supports thousands of jobs.

From the 2018 Concurrent Resolution on Environmental and Economic Stewardship, which acknowledges the need for action on our changing climate, to this year’s Community Renewable Energy Act, which creates pathways for communities to transition to 100% net renewable energy by 2030, Utah policy makers are working across the aisle to ensure a brighter future for us all.

We’re delighted to share these successes with the world during this conference. But we can’t overlook how much further we still have to go, and are eager to learn from the many voices and communities that are participating.

To truly be climate leaders, we must take action at every level. Our local city councils can consider investing in solar or wind energy and can provide resources to help each household reduce their carbon emissions. Our state representatives can continue to craft policies that will reduce statewide emissions and fund research and development of innovative technologies that will help achieve carbon neutrality.

And our federal delegation can stand up and acknowledge climate change, as Sen. Mitt Romney did last week, and then they should support and sponsor bills and programs that will make a real difference, like the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act or clean energy and electric vehicle tax policies.

Utah is not typically the first place that comes to mind for taking strong action on climate change. But that is starting to shift, from both the ground up and the top down. To make a long-lasting, effective impact, we must work together at every level of government and society to tackle climate change.

Here in Utah, we need our local and federal elected officials to not just take inspiration from the U.N. conference, but to work together to take tangible, immediate and ongoing action on climate change.

Submitted by Scott Williams, M.D., the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah; Andrea Himoff, Action Utah; Tom Moyer, Citizen’s Climate Lobby Utah.