“In 2009, I went to Copenhagen, Denmark to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 15). During this conference, many countries committed to reducing their Greenhouse Gas emissions. As I was reading the Copenhagen Accord, which listed all of the cities that committed to reducing their Greenhouse Gas Emissions, I realized that Detroit was not on the list. So in 2011, I was compelled to convene key stakeholders to discuss the possibility of developing a Climate Action Plan for the city of Detroit. In 2012, we formed the Detroit Climate Action Collaborative, which led the development of the City of Detroit’s first Climate Action Plan. We established a steering committee and several workgroups. Those workgroups developed the content for the Detroit Climate Action Plan. While working at DWEJ, I recognized the importance of engaging allies from diverse backgrounds, especially businesses. Our contention was that if businesses are part of the problem in contributing to rising greenhouse gas emissions, they should also be part of the solution.Kimberly Hill Knott, President/CEO of Future Insight Consulting, LLC and Chair of the City of Detroit’s Green Task Force Climate Action Committee
The Detroit Climate Action Collaborative Comes Together
Scientists around the world acknowledge that climate change will have serious environmental, public health, and economic consequences from which it will be increasingly difficult to recover. Whether Detroiters know it or not, we are impacted by those changes in our daily lives. DWEJ has a responsibility to help make sure our people and businesses are well-informed, are provided tools to create change, and are guided toward a healthy, resilient city for everyone. DWEJ takes this responsibility seriously.
Let us travel back in time to 2011. It was a busy time for Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice. Not only were we operating our Green Job Training Program and working with other groups on what would become the Detroit Environmental Agenda, we also realized there was another problem that the city was facing and would continue to face— global climate change and the need to become climate resilient. While many US cities had plans to address and prepare for global climate change, Detroit was unprepared.
We decided to take action. We convened the Detroit Climate Action Collaborative (DCAC), a partnership between a broad array of local and regional allies—nonprofit groups, businesses, government agencies, and educational institutions.
To get started, we asked a blunt question: “How does a city attempting to thrive in the present day begin to think about what it will look like 50 years down the road?”.
The Detroit Climate Action Collaborative was a grassroots effort created to conduct research, gain community support, draw upon community knowledge, catalog greenhouse gas pollution, and offer real-world, achievable solutions and action plans to tackle climate change and related issues faced by Detroiters.
Detroit’s First Bottom-Up Climate Resilience Plan
In 2017, after many years of work, it all came together when DWEJ led the preparation and publication of the Detroit Climate Action Plan. It was a first for Detroit and one of the few plans in the nation to be written from the streets up, not the top (government) down. The plan was purposefully written to be easy to understand by residents. Inclusion has always been a mainstay of our strategies. and it continues to be a thread that weaves itself through every project, every endeavor, every program we undertake.
The Detroit Climate Action Plan is more than just a report and a wish list collection of ideas. It is an actual plan, complete with specific actions and attainable goals with benchmarks that serve as a stimulus for generating public and political support for action. The Plan contains over 100 action steps, focusing strategy on five major themes:
- Solid Waste
- Public Health
- Businesses & Institutions
- Parks, Public Spaces & Water Infrastructure
- Homes & Neighborhoods
Understanding the Impact of Climate Change in Detroit
We commissioned Detroit-specific studies on greenhouse gas emissions, vulnerability, and climatology. We talked and listened in town hall and neighborhood meetings, organized summits with business, health and youth organizations, and regrouped over and over again to get it right. This work was critical to the creation of the Detroit Climate Action Plan.
A project of this importance and scale took a lot of hard work by many people. The Detroit Climate Action Plan was the result of close collaboration and thousands of hours of research, brainstorming, and meetings with our partners, including University of Michigan, Wayne State University and Michigan State University. Business supporters included Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, DTE Energy, Detroit Salt Company, and Data Driven Detroit. (See the report for the full list.)
The Economic Impact of the Detroit Climate Action Plan
Following publication of the Detroit Climate Action Plan, DWEJ commissioned a financial study, called the Economic Impact of the Detroit Climate Action Plan, which examined the potential economic impact created by implementing the action steps of the Plan. The report was published in 2018 and stated that we must reimagine how we plan and fund government activity to achieve our goals and directly improve the day-to-day experience of Detroiters. One way is to invest in infrastructure—repairing storm sewers, upgrading pumping systems, and repaving roads.
One of the first major policy victories resulting from the Detroit Climate Action Plan and Economic Report occurred on July 24, 2019, when Detroit City Council unanimously passed a greenhouse gas ordinance. This was the first ordinance of its kind in Detroit, and aims to cut emissions from City government sources 30% by 2025 and 100% by 2050.
We continue to work with the Detroit Green Task Force’s Climate Action Committee, chaired by Kimberly Hill Knott, who previously worked at DWEJ as our Senior Policy Director and Project Director for the Detroit Climate Action Collaborative. Our shared goal is to continue creating and implementing priority action steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Detroit.