The world has a truly historic pope in Francis. From his outreach to the poor to his views on divorce to a Fiat as his conveyance of choice as he traveled around America last month, he is a leader unlike any we have ever seen.
Now that he has left, let’s think about what he did here.
Pope Francis used his voice — one of the most influential in the world — and a unique tack to call attention to an issue that affects every one of us: climate change.
Climate change is usually left to heads of state and leaders of nations. Yet when the pope held a convening on this global crisis at the Vatican this summer, he invited mayors. I was honored to be among the 65 from around the world invited to attend. I was joined by peers from every continent when Francis called on us to lead the fight against climate change.
With a majority of the world’s population — 54 percent — living in cities for the first time in history, and global leaders sadly stymied by dysfunction, the pope is asking those of us not at the center of national power, but on the periphery of it, to take action to combat climate change.
Building on the mission we accepted at the Vatican, I gathered in New York last week with fellow mayors to support Francis and the United Nations in the crucial mission of global sustainability. As world leaders met at the United Nations, we mayors signed onto ambitious and achievable Sustainable Development Goals ahead of the global climate negotiations this December. These goals will help lift people out of poverty, grow the world’s economies equitably and sustainably, and halt and reverse the effects that have pushed Earth’s climate to the brink.
Why does this matter to us? Why should I, and why should Minneapolis, answer the pope’s call to lead our state, our country and our globe in building a sustainable and equitable future?
Because climate change and inequity are related. The economic growth model of the last 150 years has altered our climate in ways that have caused Minneapolis recently to be named the No. 2 American city most affected by climate change. And that same growth model — growth for the sake of growth — has also contributed to, and done nothing to close, the gaps in our city outcomes between white people and people of color — in education, wealth, housing, health, you name it — that are the worst in the nation.
For more than a decade, Minneapolis has taken steps to combat to climate change. Now we’re ramping it up. We have committed to reducing our greenhouse gases by 30 percent by 2030 and by 80 percent by 2050. We have adopted goals to recycle and compost 50 percent of Minneapolis’ waste by 2020 and 80 percent by 2030. We are implementing a first-of-its-kind Clean Energy Partnership with our regulated utilities to advance our sustainability goals. We are expanding our options for nonmotorized transportation. This leadership is why the White House named Minneapolis a Climate Action Champion.
We are also taking steps to end the racial inequities in Minneapolis that are morally wrong and economically disastrous for all of us — in a city where a majority of residents will soon be people of color, our economy cannot continue to thrive if our residents of color are not thriving. For this reason, I established my Cradle to K cabinet that has developed a plan to prevent disparities for our youngest children. I’ve worked closely with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman on President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative to improve outcomes for young men of color. I propose to keep investing in innovative solutions for workforce training for low-income and immigrant communities. Inclusive growth — growth that is intentional about including everyone — is the key principle guiding our transformation to a sustainable, equitable city that will lead America and the world in the 21st century.
Pope Francis’ historic visit is now behind us. In front of us is the once-in-the-history-of-humanity opportunity to link sustainability and equity as we use the power that we all have, as individuals and a people, to make our planet a healthy, fair and just place to call home for everyone. Minneapolis has the opportunity to lead the world toward this goal. Let’s grab it.
Betsy Hodges is mayor of Minneapolis.