Q&A with Libby Schaaf

Illustration by Melissa McGill

Mayor Libby Schaaf was inaugurated Oakland, California’s 50th mayor on January 5, 2015. She is committed to revitalization that preserves and celebrates Oakland’s diversity and leads to direct prosperity for long-time residents and newcomers. Her four areas of focus as mayor are holistic community safety, responsive trustworthy government, sustainable vibrant infrastructure, and equitable jobs and housing.

Q.What are some of the threats of climate change to the city of Oakland?
As a waterfront city, Oakland is threatened by sea level rise. Our airport, seaport, and low-lying neighborhoods are all at risk as sea levels rise and tidal and storm influences change. In addition, climate models predict more intense droughts and storms, which will affect our entire community as wildfires and floods grow stronger and more damaging. However, the most critical threat that Oakland faces is the impact of climate justice. Ensuring that the City can protect the lives, homes, and well-being of our most vulnerable community members in the face of a changing environment is key to our sustainability strategy.

Q.Who will be most affected?
Communities of color, low-income residents, and other disadvantaged groups are disproportionately affected by climate change impacts. These groups occupy much of the lower elevation lands closer to the waterfront, placing them directly in the path of both sea level rise and flooding. Unfortunately, these are also often the people with the fewest resources available to help them recover once impacts occur. We know this is true not only in Oakland but also around the world. We must act together as a global community to solve this challenge.

Q.What changes has Oakland made in recent years to address climate change?
I am proud to say that we, as Oaklanders, have a long history of focusing on sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint. I was asked to be part of the Local Climate Leaders Circle, one of 11 mayors selected to represent U.S. cities in Paris at COP21. I shared with the global community the successes that Oakland has had in reducing its emissions by more than 16 percent since 2005, and lowering our per capita emissions to among the lowest anywhere in the nation. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) recently rated Oakland as the sixth best city in America on their City Energy Scorecard, and it is part of a communitywide effort to make Oakland the greenest city on the planet.

Q.What were some of the highlights for you during COP21 in Paris this past December?
COP21 was an amazing experience. Seeing the nations of the world come together to address climate change was incredible, but the true highlight for me was seeing the power of mayors in action. More than 500 mayors from 115 countries came together in Paris to demonstrate that change can happen. Cities are not only where the majority of emissions occur, but are also the home of the technologies, companies, and leaders who will achieve the needed greenhouse gas reductions. Seeing Oakland companies and the Oakland community so well represented at this landmark event is an experience I will never forget.

Q.What are new goals being set in your city to continue to create a healthier environment?
Oakland has adopted both short- and long-term GHG reduction goals and is seeing success in achieving these targets. Our long-term goal of reducing emissions by 83 percent by 2050 is among the most ambitious targets in the world. In addition, we are updating our Energy and Climate Action Plan in 2016 to continue our path toward lower emissions and a healthier community. I am thrilled to report that I signed two agreements in my first year as Mayor—the Under 2 Memorandum of Understanding and the Compact of Mayors—which raise the bar for cities to improve coordination, drive deeper GHG reductions, and share best practices across the globe. These efforts work in tandem to demonstrate Oakland’s commitment to ensuring a safe, equitable, and resilient community.