“We need to start worrying about what kind of world we are going to leave for Keith Richards.”

I laughed when I read this “barstool wisdom about climate change” quote on a friend’s Facebook page. But was this just a clever statement about the longevity of one of the world’s most famous, hard-living rockers, or is climate change finally becoming a mainstream concern?

Thankfully, the city of Atlanta and other major urban areas worldwide are not waiting to find out; they are leading the way.

On Sept. 21, the Atlanta City Council unanimously passed a Climate Action Plan to achieve measurable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 from multiple sectors across the city. Mayor Kasim Reed’s Office of Sustainability and its new director, Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, a former state legislator, environmental attorney and community advocate, are overseeing the program.

The decisions that cities make today will influence emissions tomorrow. To emphasize that point, 12 U.S. cities, including Atlanta, have formed a delegation to attend the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in early December.

Known as the Local Climate Leaders Circle, they are calling for a new international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and for widespread reform of policies and regulations that address climate, economic and energy challenges.

Climate change impacts are already being felt at the local level and will only become more challenging.

Increased climate variability and extreme events, such as prolonged drought and torrential rains, have economic and health consequences.

The epic flooding that hit Atlanta in September 2009 – a “500-year event” in some areas – resulted in 10 deaths, damaged or destroyed nearly 17,000 homes and caused $193 million in economic damage, according to the city.

Just two years earlier, an “exceptional drought” in the Southeastern U.S. claimed 200 lives and resulted in significant economic damage in the region, totaling $12 billion.

Atlanta’s climate plan targets commercial and residential buildings, energy production, wastewater treatment, transportation, solid waste, urban agriculture and green spaces.

Fourteen percent of the 20 percent in emissions reductions to be achieved by 2020 will come from efficiencies in energy and water management. This will be achieved through changes in the operation of city buildings and wastewater treatment facilities, stronger and more effective local ordinances, and greater financial investment in retrofitting and infrastructure improvements.

With 100 million square feet of commercial space already committed to the Better Buildings Challenge – thanks to Mayor Reed’s leadership – the city is well on its way to meeting its goals.

Who knows? The city may even outlast Keith Richards.

For more information about Atlanta’s Climate Action Plan, visit To learn more about Atlanta’s
Better Buildings Challenge, visit

Sally Bethea is the retired executive director of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and an environmental and sustainability advocate. Her award-winning Above the Waterline column appears monthly in Atlanta Intown.

One reply on “Atlanta leads on climate change”

  1. Nancy Creek and Murphey Candler Lake this morning reminded me of that “500 Year Event” in 2009. I wasn’t sure that the lake dam would hold!!–Tom Reilly, National Wildlife Federation

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