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From Paris: Mayor Landrieu Touts New Orleans' Resilience

Monique Verdin
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu addresses the United States Conference of Mayors at the U.S. Ambassador's residence in Paris Saturday.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is pledging to reduce the city’s emissions and invest in its ability to cope with extreme weather caused by climate change. By signing the Compact of Mayors in Paris last week, Landrieu joins 20 other mayors pledging to do things like build more bike lanes, get people to use LED lights and build energy-efficient buildings. New Orleans is already part of the 100 Resilient Cities project and has developed a plan to improve water management and decrease emissions.

WWNO’s Tegan Wendland caught up with the mayor at an event held by the US Conference of Mayors at the US ambassador’s house in Paris.

Wendland: What have you accomplished so far on this trip here to Paris?

Landrieu: Well, we wanted to do a couple of things. First we wanted to come and show our solidarity and commitment to the people of France in response to what President Obama called "an attack on humanity." I think it was really important three weeks after the Paris attacks that we actually showed up and I think that is a symbol that we’re not going to be defeated -- that we really have to stand together as a people and do everything that we can to put down terrorism and hatred. So that’s one thing that was just accomplished by the mayors’ presence, whose simple presence bore witness to that fact.

>The second was to make sure that the world understands, and that the national governments understand that as it relates to climate change, as it relates, especially for southern Louisiana to sea rise and the other storms that are coming in -- we have some real serious potential threats. And just like we’ve spent the last ten years getting stronger and more resilient to make sure that whatever comes our way we’re better prepared for, it’s also important for us to take note and to acknowledge that as the coast continues to deteriorate and more storms come in, it is directly related to climate change. And specifically in south Louisiana to sea rise and to the disappearance and subsidence of the coast. When both of those things happen, what consequently happens and absolutely happens is that we have more water closer, storm surges are higher, and those of us that live in all of southwest Louisiana -- really all the way up to Baton Rouge, and that after that, further up -- are at complete and existential risk. It threatens the very existence of the land that we live on. And therefore our livelihood.

Wendland: And you brought some recommendations to the UN as well?

Landrieu: Well one of the things that we always do as mayors really is we sit in rooms and we talk about things that work, or talk about things that have been tried that didn’t work, or talk about ways that we can do things better. One of them that’s particularly hard for small cities, and New Orleans really falls in that category, is how you actually measure the emissions. I mean the mechanism by which you do that, the cost of it, and then how you make that real. If you set false goals that don’t mean anything, that’s based on bad information, it really doesn't matter.

Wendland: What would you say you’ve accomplished over the past year as part of the 100 Resilient Cities project and what might you be planning going forward?

Landrieu: Right, well listen, that’s part B of whether or not through human action you can slow down climate change. The second part of it is acknowledging that it exists -- and the people of Louisiana can attest because Hurricane Katrina was proof positive of it, that you have bad things coming your way. It’s either going to be a terrorist attack, it’s going to be an earthquake, it could be a hurricane, it could be sea level rise.

The thing that we’re doing with 100 Resilient Cities is preparing ourselves to be able receive bad things. You’re not going to stop bad things from happening, but what you can do is take control and you can lean forward and you can design a plan and the way we talk about that is "resilience." Resilience is really a word that means "get ready and be strong." So when you build a house back, build it back with stronger materials. When you build a house back in an area that you think is going to flood, build it higher. When you actually are rebuilding a city and you’re rebuilding schools, rebuild them stronger, rebuild them with energy efficiency. When you are thinking about how to organize your city, make sure that you, like New Orleans, make sure that you build a levee system that can protect you from what you think comes your way -- and have a long term plan to rebuild the coast. All of those things fall under the resilience strategy.

Wendland: Thank you so much Mayor Landrieu.

Landrieu: Thank you.

Support for the coastal desk’s reporting from Paris is provided by the Foundation for Louisiana.

Support also comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Coypu Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

Tegan has reported on the coast for WWNO since 2015. In this role she has covered a wide range of issues and subjects related to coastal land loss, coastal restoration, and the culture and economy of Louisiana’s coastal zone, with a focus on solutions and the human dimensions of climate change. Her reporting has been aired nationally on Planet Money, Reveal, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Marketplace, BBC, CBC and other outlets. She’s a recipient of the Pulitzer Connected Coastlines grant, CUNY Resilience Fellowship, Metcalf Fellowship, and countless national and regional awards.

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