ICYMI: Leon County passed a climate emergency resolution in 2023

Activists with GenCLEO turned to the county after gaining little traction with Tallahassee.

After four years of advocacy work, young climate activists can now celebrate in Florida’s capital county.

The county adopted Leon Resolution No. 23 in September of 2023. The resolution references data about the climate crisis from the United Nations and refers to goals set during the Paris Accords in 2015. The resolution outlines how Leon County has been and will be affected by extreme climate changes that are significantly exacerbated by human activity.

After outlining reasons for declaring a climate emergency, the resolution states that “Leon County declares that a climate and ecological emergency threatens our county, city, region, state, nation, society, humanity, and the natural environment.”

In the next line the resolution affirms that “Leon County will work to ensure meaningful engagement of youth, providing routine and ongoing opportunities to provide input regarding environmental factors integral to climate change and give up-to-date scientific research in the efforts to aid in providing a solution with the most equitable outcome. Furthermore, citizens of all ages are invited to present in any commission meeting that may proceed.”

Students from GenCLEO, the youth education arm of the non-profit CLEO Institute, were behind the effort. Activists first approached the municipal government of Tallahassee in 2019 about declaring a climate emergency. Tallahassee city officials declined, so GenCLEO representatives turned to the County Commission instead.

“They had an early draft resolution to start that conversation.” said Maggie Theriot, Director at Leon County’s Office of Resource Stewardship.

Theriot served as the primary contact between county officials and GenCLEO. Nia Olgetree and Samantha Kaddis – both FSU students and GenCLEO representatives – worked with Theriot on the resolution. After working with Theriot and upon graduating, Kaddis started in a position as CLEO Institute’s Regional Manager for the Tallahassee Area.

Once the County Commission signaled its support, Theriot worked directly with representatives of GenCLEO on the exact language for the proposal. GenCLEO students attended several meetings with Theriot where they discussed sustainability in Leon County.

Consensus in the scientific community regarding the human impact on the climate crisis has never been stronger. International organizations such as the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) continue to issue dire warnings about the need for rapid and transformative action. Leon County continues to experience the effects of climate change with higher risks of extreme heat and extreme storms. These events threaten critical infrastructure and the livelihood of the community.

Theriot explained that Leon County’s vision of sustainability is not limited to a single initiative or program.

“It’s very important to me and to the County to share that history and share that context with GenCLEO and their participants,” Theriot said.

Theriot sees the resolution as an affirmative document consistent with Leon County’s Integrated Sustainability Action Plan, or ISAP, which she designed. The ISAP includes over 90 action items the county is committed to realizing within the next decade. Specific goals include increasing the renewable energy capacity of Leon County’s facilities and reducing paper consumption in county operations both by 30% by the year 2030.

A climate emergency declaration means a renewed commitment to sustainability, according to the people involved. The resolution includes language that affirms the diversity of the community and the importance of equitable solutions to unprecedented climate change.

The resolutions includes the statement that “Leon County recognizes that the full participation, inclusion, support, and leadership of community organizations, faith communities, youth, labor organizations, academic institutions, indigenous groups, and racial, gender, family, immigrant, and disability justice organizations and other allies are integral to the climate emergency response and mobilization efforts.”

“The resolution is not law, it’s not a bill, we’re not allocating money to anyone. It’s really just a visionary document that was passed to say the county recognizes the climate is in an emergency, that there are things happening,” Kaddis said.

The resolution passed at a time where recognition of the climate crisis at all levels of government is increasingly rare in Florida politics.

“Local government is wonderfully different … where you’re working directly with staff and elected officials,” Theriot said, comparing local government to state and federal levels.

“Our philosophy has been let’s get our own house in order first,” Theriot added.

Finding the wording commissioners were most likely to vote on was the most challenging part for students. Commissioner Brian Welch’s support proved to be particularly challenging, and he ultimately voted against the resolution. It passed 6-1.

GenCLEO originally proposed a version of the resolution that included the creation of a new youth council, which Theriot recommended against. Both parties worked on a revised version which the County Commission approved. Student leaders expressed disappointment that the resolution did not come with a youth council.

“Having [the resolution] pass gave me so much hope. It really inspired me to keep driving for the next campaign that we choose to do,” Kaddis said. When asked what comes next Kaddis laughed and said they have too many ideas.

While they narrow it down, she says that GenCLEO still attends county Commission meetings. “We keep telling everyone once this passes, we’re not going away,” Kaddis said.

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