Lukas Flippo, Photo Editor
Amid the climate crisis and efforts by local grassroots organizers, Mayor Justin Elicker announced the formation of the New Haven Climate Emergency Mobilization Task Force on Tuesday.
The 16-member task force, which includes city activists, architects and academics, aims to address the multipronged effects of climate change. According to a Tuesday press release, the group will work to end greenhouse gas emissions citywide by Dec. 31, 2030 and reduce the amount of carbon produced by the city.
The formation of the task force follows a September 2019 Board of Alders resolution originally proposed by Westville Alder Darryl Brackeen Jr. and backed by local environmental groups like the New Haven Climate Movement and Citywide Youth Coalition. The resolution listed the task force’s responsibilities and designated 0.1 percent of the city’s annual operating budget towards programs that seek to lower the city’s carbon footprint. It also required all city departments and proprietaries to report the maximum feasible energy reductions they can make by the end of 2021.
Among its members, the task force will designate “educators” to teach New Haven residents about the climate emergency and “consultants” that will research and propose environmental policies that work throughout the city’s ever-changing economic and public health realities.
“We are in the midst of deeply challenging times and climate change is one of the most pressing challenges as it confronts the very existence of our planet as we know it,” Mayor Justin Elicker wrote in a Tuesday press release. “The City of New Haven has been working on many different climate initiatives; however, the taskforce will bring focus, advocacy, and support to those and other new initiatives.”
New Haven’s City Engineer Giovanni Zinn ’05, who was also appointed to the task force, echoed Elicker’s statement, saying that the man-made challenge of climate change is evident at the moment. Zinn told the News that the task force will work to curb carbon emissions and address their adverse effects.
According to Zinn, a distinguishing feature of the task force is the cooperation between the city government and grassroots groups like the NHCM.
Kiana Flores, the co-founder of the NHCM youth team, was among those tapped for the task force. Flores told the News that the NHCM began pushing for the resolution in May 2019 and continued rallying to obtain signatures for the resolution over the summer. The NHCM submitted over 1,500 signatures in support of the resolution when the Board of Alders discussed the proposal in August 2019.
Flores, who is a senior at Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School, said she hopes to become the voice of youth activists within the task force.
“I bring the voice of the youth and the ambitious side of really trying to drive the climate policy,” Flores said. “My experience with the grassroots organization is a lot about acknowledging that it is a climate crisis and that we really need strong action. It starts with the city and with New Haven.”
Flores said she hopes to push the climate task force to think progressively to achieve its goals.
Zinn added that climate change requires a response from numerous disciplines, including his own: engineering.
“If we’re building infrastructure for 25, 50, 75, 100 years, it would be irresponsible not to think about climate change and not build infrastructure resistant to climate change,” he said.
Zinn said he hopes that the Elm City will lead by example in introducing a “new future” of eco-friendly architecture. Zinn said his city engineering department hopes to purchase 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources to reduce the city’s carbon footprint. Zinn said the department will also look into new zoning regulations and other measures that can contribute to the task force’s efforts to help “catalyze a climate emergency mobilization at the local, state, national and global levels.”
According to Zinn, Elicker allocated $550,000 to the New Haven Engineering Department for their climate preparedness efforts earlier this year. The department, he added, hopes to consult with the task force on how to best invest these funds into energy improvements in the city’s buildings and transportation projects.
Zinn said he most looks forward to learning from the experts in the task force.
“Probably the biggest thing is getting ideas and feedback from people that are knowledgeable about this,” Zinn said.
Though delighted by the implementation of the task force, Flores has set her sights on pushing carbon neutrality statewide. Flores has been in contact with Reps. Martin Looney, Christine Cohen and Norm Needleman to push for further environmental reform in the state senate.
Flores said that she thinks New Haven has a unique voice in the state with its history of activism and diversity of voices, which she hopes will push the state forward.
“I do think that New Haven can be a trailblazer for Connecticut in terms of strong climate legislation,” Flores said.
According to the state’s most recent data, Connecticut’s economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 were 40.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide
equivalent, which was 17.4 percent below the amount in 2001.
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