On Saturday December 13, 2015, 196 nations reached an historic agreement to work together to curb global warming. I had the privilege of attending the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP 21) in Paris, as part of the U.S. Government delegation, representing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and returned energized by what I saw, with a renewed commitment to the resilience and energy work we are doing here at HUD.
We at HUD understand the unprecedented threats to our buildings, our communities, and our people as a result of global climactic changes. We see the regional disruption that happens when a major disaster occurs, to transportation networks, to economies, to ecosystems. We see the neighborhood disruption that takes place when small businesses close to complete repairs from damage – or remain shuttered forever, unable to endure the break in commerce. And of course we know that job losses or health crises or catastrophic damage to a home can mean the difference between stability and growth, or the beginning of a downward spiral.
This Administration has made incredible strides helping our communities grow in a more resilient fashion, by supporting the Clean Power Rule and by piloting innovative new investments in resilience, such as those through our own $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition. Participants in this competition are thinking about how to invest HUD CDBG-Disaster Recovery resources not only in the areas most directly affected by recent disasters, but also how to expand those approaches to build regional strength against severe weather. The winners of the competition will be announced in January and will represent some of the most forward-thinking disaster recovery and resilience approaches in the country.
Vulnerable Individuals – The sad truth is the people who bear the brunt of the impact of climate change are those who have the fewest resources to deal with it. The lowest income households are often located in the most vulnerable locations: low-lying areas prone to flooding often with poor infrastructure and less access to services and opportunities. The Paris Agreement provides strong assurance to developing countries that they will be supported as they pursue clean and climate-resilient growth. HUD Secretary Castro recently launched a new Climate Council within the agency, charged with advancing bold and specific goals on energy and climate resilience over the next several months, including working to protect the most vulnerable individuals in our nation.
Buildings and their Energy Use – Fluctuating energy prices put enormous strain on tight household budgets. HUD is working hard to green 500,000 assisted homes by 2016 and we have secured voluntary commitments by 87 multifamily building partners through the Better Buildings Challenge. We are on track to meet our goal of achieving 300 MW of renewable energy on site in federally subsidized housing by 2020, which triples the original federal renewable energy target set by President Obama.
Neighborhoods and Opportunities – HUD’s investments fundamentally shape the neighborhoods that comprise our regions. Through efforts like Promise Zones, Choice Neighborhoods, the Sustainable Communities Initiative and Rental Assistance Demonstration, we are helping to strengthen neighborhoods through improvements in infrastructure, housing, and services. Strong and cohesive neighborhoods and regions are essential to increasing communities’ resilience to a changing climate.
I am proud of the leadership of the US in promoting the ambitious Paris Agreement, including the work of HUD and the contribution of at least 15 U.S. mayors in attendance representing over 100 additional U.S. mayors pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for climate change in their communities. My experience in Paris gives me confidence that we can achieve our climate objectives while creating new jobs, raising standards of living and lifting people out of poverty. As President Obama said, “[w]e are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.” Let’s get to work.