Surprising Successes in Utah

Last month, youth and community leaders from all over the world met in Salt Lake City to convene on Building Inclusive and Sustainable Cities and to agree on a resolution for UN member states to use as guidance to their future actions as part of its 68th Civil Society Conference.  On climate, the resolution urges all stakeholders “To recognize the severity and urgency of the climate change crisis and the destructive impact of our human footprint. We must act on clean, renewable sources of energy, low-emission mobility modes, and net-zero energy buildings. This change will mitigate greenhouse gas emissions by cities and will protect our air, water, and ecosystems, thus sustaining biodiversity. Further, we recognize that countries and cities will experience climate and environmental challenges differently and have different resources with which to address them.”

With the knowledge that the average age of the world’s population is 32, the UN aimed to have half of the attendees be youth, and young people from all over the world were in attendance.  The energy was palpable, and the commitment to action permeated every session. The people we met from developing countries reminded us how urgent the issue is for so many, where desertification, sea level rise, and poverty are growing and threatening even more lives. 

The conference also put a spotlight on the leadership on climate solutions in Utah. Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and her team’s work on sustainability was prominently on display on the first day during a large group session called “Local Governments Leading the Way. Representatives from Salt Lake City, Park City, Utah Clean Energy, and state representative Patrice Arent discussed local initiatives on energy, transportation, food systems, and air quality. Tyler Poulson of Salt Lake City and Sarah Wright of Utah Clean Energy delved into innovative new state legislation, HB 411Community Renewable Energy Act, that creates an option for cities served by Utah’s largest electric utility to move toward net-100% clean renewable energy usage by 2030.

Left: Mayor Biskupski and UN leaders at the 68th annual Civil Society Conference in Salt Lake City. Source: Steve Griffin for the Deseret News, August 26, 2019

Path to Positive Utah and ecoAmerica led an exciting workshop called “Accelerating Breakthrough Dialogue on Climate Action” that delved into successful approaches to climate change conversations in all communities, especially more conservative ones. We discussed ecoAmerica’s 15 Steps Guide to Effective Climate Communications and Utah Clean Energy’s growing Path to Positive Utah climate leadership initiative. Participants were particularly gripped by the question of how we confront despair and a lack of hope. Professor Rob Davies and Dr. Jeff Robison shared their experiences with offering troubling but important information with groups about climate change. We left the attendees with the “assignment” to return to their own communities and craft a message about climate action that would be appropriate for the culture, beliefs, values and concerns of their particular regions.

Right:  Path to Positive Utah Leaders. Source: Jennifer Roberts

The UN Civil Society Conference brought home to us the often dire challenge that climate change poses to many of our friends across the world. But it also left us with a reminder that we have strong and vibrant networks of people and communities across the globe, dedicated to meeting our climate and resource challenges in a way that is sustaining and inclusive of all people. We can help harness and connect these community networks and leaders, locally and globally, to forge a path forward on equitable climate solutions.

This article was co-authored by Josh Craft and Jennifer Roberts.  Many thanks to Path to Positive Utah and Utah Clean Energy for their collaboration and partnership.

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