City council declares climate emergency

City council declares climate emergency
Courtesy photo

By Cody Mello-Klein |

Alexandria joined 500 other communities worldwide in declaring a climate emergency, after city council unanimously approved a resolution to that effect during an Oct. 22 legislative meeting.

The resolution, brought before council by Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Councilor Del Pepper, acknowledged the catastrophic effects of global warming, its ongoing and future impacts on the world and the city and what the city must do to reduce its environmental impact.

“I note that the energy awareness proclamation we passed earlier this month did include language referencing a climate emergency, and while we appreciated that language, we felt that the magnitude of the problems we’re facing were worthy of their own resolution to clarify the urgent nature that both we as a city and a government and residents need to act, and businesses as well,” Bennett-Parker said at the meeting.

According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, carbon dioxide emissions need to be reduced 45 percent world-wide by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 in order to stabilize global temperature increases.

Bennett-Parker noted that communities across the globe, including Alexandria, are already seeing the impacts of global warming.

Flooding at the base of King Street. (Photo Credit: Scott Collins)

“Obviously, we saw extreme rain and flash flooding earlier this summer, followed by extreme heat, and we know those situations, those events, are only going to increase in frequency if we don’t act,” Bennett-Parker said in an interview.

(Read more: After flooding, council declares local emergency)

The Northern Virginia Regional Commission estimated that between $100 million and $250 million worth of Alexandria property will be affected by a one to five-foot rise in sea level, resulting in the displacement of residents.

Bennett-Parker, co-chair of the city’s Eco-City Steering Committee with Pepper, said that the declaration is meant to convey the dire nature of the situation not only to council but to the community.

“I think the community engagement and education piece around this is really important because the city’s emissions are only 4 percent of our community’s emissions, whereas the residents and businesses make up 96 percent of emissions,” Bennett-Parker said.

The declaration does not bind council to anything at this point – it’s more of a philosophical statement or mission statement meant to “underscore the urgency with which we need to act,” Bennett-Parker said.

Pepper, who called the resolution “sobering,” fully supported the sentiment and said it was in keeping with the actions and targets of the city’s environmental action plan.

Some members of the community suggested council go further than making a mission statement. A letter signed by 10 residents asked council to direct City Manager Mark Jinks to include in his budget proposal a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5 percent by the end of fiscal year 2021. City council unanimously supported the directive.

“Last year’s budget we had three themes: equitable, smart and the third one was green, to which we had electricity reduction, greenhouse gas emission initiatives, and I receive that that is clearly going to remain a priority going forward,” Jinks said.

Council adopted the resolution unanimously.

(Read more: Council adopts Environmental Action Plan 2040)