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COP26 summit: New Orleans mayor says 'all hands on deck' needed to address climate change

Courtesy of the U.S. Department of State
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell (third from left) poses with a group of mayors at the United Nations Climate Change Summit in Glasgow, Monday, Nov. 1, 2021.

The United Nations’ Climate Change Conference kicked off Sunday, with Louisiana leaders present in Glasgow, Scotland, to discuss the effects in their own backyard, including Mayor LaToya Cantrell.

As part of a bipartisan group from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Cantrell was selected to speak about the effects of climate change and how she is dealing and working to solve the crisis on a city level as a keynote speaker at the conference.

“Just ten days after I was sworn in, and on Mother’s Day, I had to be picked up from my home in a high-water vehicle to meet with my emergency preparedness team because more than five inches of rain fell in 2-and-a-half hours over parts of my city,” Cantrell said. “I knew then that the impact of climate change would truly be the framing of my term as mayor.”

The most recent example of the devastating impacts of climate change in New Orleans was the catastrophic Hurricane Ida, which Cantrell said coincided with multiple days of heat advisories. She noted that the storm was traveling so fast, she could not call for a mandatory evacuation.

However, one takeaway from the storm is that the city's levies had vastly improved since Hurricane Katrina. The city didn’t see significant flooding as it did 16 years earlier.

“It was a contribution of the federal government and a $15 billion infrastructure project to ensure that the levees were sound and were built to stand,” Cantrell said.

New Orleans has received more than its yearly average of rainfall this year as well. Cantrell said the heavy amounts of rain spurred by climate change have created drainage challenges in the city.

“We need it all,” Cantrell said. “We need all hands on deck to improve our resiliency and sustainability in addressing climate change.”

Cantrell, who is running for reelection, detailed the green infrastructure her administration has invested in, paid for by local, state and federal funds and philanthropic donors like former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also spoke at the summit. She listed two projects, a $15.5 million Pontilly neighborhood stormwater network that can hold up to 8.9 million gallons of water, and a $7.1 million Hagan Lafitte project that can store up to 1.3 million gallons of stormwater.

City officials expect to receive federal funds from President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better program to harden its infrastructure even further, which Cantrell said is much different from her first two years in office, when President Donald Trump was in office.

“In 2018, America’s mayors had to drive the bus on pushing governments at every single level to respond to the impacts of climate change,” Cantrell said. “At that time, we lacked national leadership and no plan. Leadership had to happen on the ground.”

Trump had pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord in 2017, which Biden has since re-entered. Cantrell said she was grateful for President Biden and his understanding of the impacts of climate change.

Joined by his economic development and coastal policy advisors, Gov. John Bel Edwards was also in attendance Monday, and the two Louisiana officials have plans to meet with officials in Scotland through Nov. 4.

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