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CONVERSATIONS: While nations discuss cutting emissions, Florida lacks any clean-energy plan

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Orlando is among fewer than a dozen local governments across Florida to commit to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Photo by Amy Green

The United Nations climate change conference COP26 enters its second week Monday in Glasgow, Scotland.

 Orlando sustainability and resilience officer Chris Castro just got back from Glasgow. WMFE environmental reporter Amy Green talked with him about what the conference means for central Florida. 

CASTRO: One of the first events I got to sit in on was with our national climate advisor, Gina McCarthy. And she was really helping to explain some of the U.S. strategy in the short-term, what they’re prioritizing. One of the alignments that we saw is their focus on building. The building sector uses over 40% of the energy. It’s a major contributor, is one of the largest contributors to this problem. And we in Orlando have been trying to focus on accelerating more energy efficiency, reducing the energy burden on low-income communities. And it was really heartening to hear from Gina that they are creating a new coalition of local governments that are going to begin providing technical assistance and funding support for cities that are actually making bold commitments to reduce emissions in the building sector.

GREEN: The conference is aimed at cutting carbon emissions and slowing climate change. Florida is uniquely vulnerable to climate change but is one of about a dozen states lacking any clean-energy plan. Has that come up at the conference at all?

CASTRO: It has, not specifically to the state of Florida. But there has been a lot of discussion about, you know, the need for more local states and national governments that really need to make these commitments to at least acknowledge the issue and try to work multi-level amongst our governments to advance this work.

GREEN: I mean, what does that mean for municipalities like Orlando that the state doesn’t have a clean-energy plan?

CASTRO: Well, I think it means that luckily, for Orlando, I will say we’re a bit unique in that having our own municipal utility, like OUC, gives us much more control than many of the other cities across Florida, right?, that are subject to investor-owned utilities. And so we have a great relationship with OUC. And as you know, recently, OUC came out with a bold strategic plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and hit those intermediate CO2 reduction targets and even commit to ending coal-fired generation by the year 2027 at the latest, with drastic reductions before that. And so not having state leadership I think minimizes the uniformity across our entire state to really take action towards addressing these emissions. And we need that now more than ever.

GREEN: What will you be watching this week as COP26 wraps up?

CASTRO: Well, we’ll be watching to see about this $100 billion commitment for helping other nations around the world. We have to realize that by us supporting these other nations in adapting to these climate impacts that we’re already seeing today, we’re going to mitigate a lot of the disruption that comes from that, right? We’ve seen that droughts in the Middle East have caused incredible uprising and migration of millions of people, which ended up leading to war. So that’s a big deal. Secondly, we’re really hoping that we continue to see an uptick of cities and local governments around the world committing to this Race to Zero. In fact, not only the city of Orlando has committed to this, but we helped spur a movement across Florida, called the Florida Race to Zero campaign, just a couple of months ago. Trying to get our peers in Tampa, our peers down in Miami-Dade and many other communities, now about a dozen or so cities across Florida, that have actually stepped up and said, We’re committed to the same goal. And we’re going to go on this race with you to achieve a zero-carbon economy.

GREEN: I’ve been speaking with Orlando sustainability and resilience officer Chris Castro. Thanks for joining us.

CASTRO: Thanks, Amy.

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Amy Green

About Amy Green

Reporter and Producer

Amy Green covers the environment and climate change at WMFE News. She is an award-winning journalist and author whose extensive reporting on the Everglades is featured in the book MOVING WATER, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, and podcast DRAINED, available wherever you get your podcasts. Amy’s ... Read Full Bio »