The Chapel Hill Town Council joined other North Carolina municipalities in declaring a climate emergency last week.
The Town worked with community members and environmental organization Sunrise Movement Chapel Hill to revise its Climate Action and Response plan, which council members adopted at an April 7 meeting.
View the Town of Chapel Hill's full Climate Action and Response Plan here.
The Town also unanimously passed the Climate Emergency Resolution.
By doing this, the council recognized that a massive-scale mobilization effort is necessary to halt, reverse and address the consequences and causes of this emergency. The council also committed to call on other North Carolina municipalities, the state and federal government to declare a climate emergency.
“Climate change is an existential threat to all of us and while there needs to be strong action at the federal and state level, there are many things that only cities and towns can do,” council member Michael Parker said.
In September 2019, Chapel Hill Town Council adopted a resolution committing to the creation of a Climate Action and Response Plan that would outline how the community can work together to address the impacts of climate change and advance racial equity.
To achieve the revised plan, the council and John Richardson, the Town's community resilience officer, have worked with and sought feedback from community members and the Sunrise Movement Chapel Hill for the past year.
Some of the possible actions included in the plan are to create walkable and transit-served neighborhoods, to install energy upgrades in existing buildings and to enhance green infrastructure.
Parker said action to mitigate climate change will be easier with this plan in place.
Sunrise Chapel Hill, a hub of the national Sunrise Movement, consists of young people working to stop climate change.
Claire Bradley, a UNC junior and co-coordinator of Sunrise Chapel Hill, said Sunrise was excited to see a vote on the resolution because it showed the council’s commitment to treating the climate situation as the emergency it is.
“I think that we can be leaders in the town of Chapel Hill and show other cities what strong climate action looks like,” Bradley said.
On April 5, members of Sunrise Chapel Hill gathered outside of Chapel Hill Town Hall and demanded that the Town take immediate and bold action against the climate crisis. Members held signs that read “This is an Emergency,” “We Deserve a Livable Future” and “Chapel Hill Act Now.”
Bradley said this demonstration was a way to get public attention and put pressure on the Town to realize that young people in the area really care about the climate situation.
Several members of Sunrise Chapel Hill also spoke at the April 7 meeting. All speakers said now was the time for council to be bold and adopt a resolution.
“If not us, who? If not now, when?” Sunrise Movement member William Zang said at the meeting.
Carol Seigler, a UNC senior and member of the Sunrise Movement, said at the meeting that she goes through life with increased anxiety about the future of the world that she lives in.
“It feels good to read and hear a reflection of that anxiety in Chapel Hill’s Climate Action and Response Plan,” Siegler said. “It feels good to be heard.”
Parker said passing the resolution and response plan are in some sense the easy part, but that the hard part is actually implementing what they call for. He said a lot of the future work will involve educating Chapel Hill residents, so they can understand how to promote environmental sustainability on an individual basis.
In closing the discussion, council members discussed the implementations of these plans and how critical it is to properly fit these climate changes into this year's budget.
The next step is to take the council’s goals and objectives identified in the plan and compare it with the funding available. The rest of this month and May will be spent looking at a series of possible changes so the budget can be approved in early June, Parker said.
“Now we’re just really ramping things up, making sure that we have a plan and making sure that we are more intentional about allocating resources to it,” Parker said.
Council member Karen Stegman said council members will have to make some tough choices in the next few weeks and months, but that they need to apply an equity and climate lens to each of them.
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