Kansas City leaders consider declaring a climate emergency. Here’s what it would mean

·5 min read

The Kansas City region is in the midst of a climate and ecological emergency, city leaders say, and they’re considering options to address the threat.

A resolution introduced in the Transportation, Infrastructure and Operations Committee Wednesday morning would declare an emergency and direct the city to take action.

The resolution stems from a report from the city’s Environmental Management Commission given to council members in August.

“This annual report in this resolution helps us all to be connected to what’s happening and better connect to our environment and ways to save our environment,” Councilwoman Melissa Robinson, District 3, said. She, along with Council members Eric Bunch, District 4, and Andrea Bough, District 6 at-large, introduced the legislation.

“We are in an emergency right now. People need to be aware of that,” Robinson told The Star. “The city has a responsibility to educate the average day resident of the crisis that we’re in related to the climate and the need to take immediate action.”

Here’s what the resolution would call on the city to do:

  • The city declares that a climate and ecological emergency threatens our city, region, state, nation, civilization, humanity and the natural world.

  • The city commits to keeping the concerns of vulnerable communities central to all climate program planning processes and to invite them to actively participate in the development and implementation of the city’s Climate Protection and Resiliency Plan.

  • The ongoing Climate Protection and Resiliency Planning process requires full engagement of elected officials, staff, citizens, businesses, non-profit organizations and institutions in the examination of how to create regenerative solutions across our human, ecological and economical systems in Kansas City.

  • The city commits to working with local, state and federal governments to advocate for and address the local and international climate needs.

  • The city manager is directed to review subsidy programs to engage residents and businesses in climate action and to include climate action subsidy programming in fiscal year 2022 to 2023.

  • The city will require that all future relevant plans and policies address ways to reduce climate impact and the climate emergency until Kansas City achieves and is able to maintain climate neutrality.

  • The city will specifically tie funding and other priorities to solutions based on their scaled impact to greenhouse gas emissions.

  • The city will include its climate protection and resiliency goals in its 2022 state legislative priorities

Councilwoman Robinson read a letter written to her by a fourth grade student at Wendell Phillips Elementary, then pointed to a stack of letters from more children who wrote about their connections to the environment.

“The most important thing is that we have to change our culture,” Robinson said. “And often times, when investment is matched with our behavior and our decisions, it helps us to change our mindset quicker.”

She pointed to the subsidy programs listed in the annual report from the Environmental Management Commission, including rebates for rainscapes, rainwater harvesting and composting. The resolution requires the city manager budget for those programs.

Last year, the council passed a resolution setting a goal for the city to be climate neutral by 2040 and for city municipal operations to be climate neutral by 2030.

Andrew Savastino, chief environmental officer for the city, said Kansas City needs to “significantly accelerate emission reductions.”

“It’s a call to action for elected officials, staff, citizens, businesses, nonprofits and institutions to get involved, be part of the solution, start reducing carbon emissions, get engaged in our current climate planning activity,” he said.

The influence of humans has, indisputably, warmed the climate system, Savastino said, citing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. The report laid out the impact of the globe warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius. The result: widespread heat waves, heavy rainfall, droughts and wildfires.

Kansas City’s annual average temperature is expected to rise by 4 degrees Fahrenheit from 2021 to 2060, according to the city.

Michael Kelley, vice chair of the Climate Protection Steering Committee, told committee members Wednesday that they want to provide additional context to staff and council members before passing the resolution.

It was held for one week and will be discussed again Nov. 3 at 9 a.m. in the Transportation, Operations and Infrastructure committee.

“We look forward to working with all of you to identify opportunities to make our city cleaner, more sustainable and ultimately more resilient in the face of climate emergency,” Kelley said.

Council members are scheduled to receive updates on the Kansas City Regional Climate Action Plan and on the city’s climate action planning activities in November.

City spokeswoman Maggie Green said in a statement that the city is focused on improving air quality, in addition to reducing the city’s emissions and carbon footprint.

The city is moving forward with several initiatives. Among them: the city mandating future city vehicles be electric, making progress with renewable energy efforts and converting all streetlights to LED’s.

How you can participate

The city is also working on its Climate Protection and Resiliency Plan, which is currently in the collaborate and explore phase.

Six workshops for the plan are scheduled where the public can participate, three virtual and three in-person:

Online

  • Central: Oct. 27 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

  • North: Oct. 28 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

  • South: Oct. 30 from 9:30 to 11 a.m.

In-person

  • Central: Nov. 4 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Gregg Klice Community Center

  • North: Nov. 6 from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the KC North Community Center

  • South: Nov. 9 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the S.E. Community Center

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