Midpeninsula Post

Climate experts and community members gather for Climate Collaboration Summit

Climate Collaboration Summit in November 2022. (Mike Zhao)

Climate activist groups, government officials and community members met Saturday at Henry M. Gunn High School for Palo Alto’s first-ever Climate Collaboration Summit. 

The event was hosted by the city and local climate advocacy group Acterra to promote collaboration between federal, state and local governments in addressing the climate crisis.

“We’re all coming together from different aspects of our community,” said Katie Rueff, event co-chair, co-founder of the Palo Alto Student Climate Coalition and Gunn High senior. “So we wanted to just emphasize how important it is that we continue to bolster these types of connections.”

Councilmember-elect Vicki Veenker and Mayor Pat Burt introduced the idea of hosting a climate-based event a few months ago. Burt proposed a focus on regional climate advocacy groups, while Veenker wanted to concentrate on sustainability through the lens of Palo Alto’s sibling-city relationship with Bloomington, Indiana. Eventually, the two ideas morphed into one.

The event’s guest speakers included Ali Nouri, Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs in the Department of Energy; Josh Becker, California State Senator; John Hamilton, Mayor of Bloomington, Indiana; Michael Wara, professor at Stanford’s Doerr School of Sustainability; and Diane Bailey, executive director of Menlo Spark, an organization that aims to fully electrify Menlo Park by 2030.

“The solutions are at the local level,” Nouri said during his speech. “We have to work with cities, states, universities, companies, to make sure that [we] are serving communities as well as [we] can by creating jobs and putting the country on the right path to address climate change.”

Many of the speakers touched on how federal legislation such as the Inflation Reduction Act has provided crucial funding for state and local governments to renew electric grids. Burt spoke in depth about Palo Alto’s Heat Pump Water Heater program, which will launch in January. The program will streamline the process of converting from a gas water heater to an electric heat pump and is part of the city’s goal to become fully carbon-neutral by 2030.

“We will pre-permit them, we will have the equipment lined up in advance, we will have a contractor lined up in advance, and then we offer unbilled financing,” Burt said. “And what we learn from that [program] will hopefully enable us to expand [to] … the rest of residential electrification in the next couple of years.”

Both Burt and Hamilton stressed the importance of “horizontal” collaboration: utilizing Palo Alto and Bloomington’s sibling-city relationship to share resources for sustainable practices rather than solely depending on “vertical” contributions from the state and federal governments.

“In Indiana, most of our electricity is generated by coal,” Hamilton said during the panel. “So that means we have a lot to do … It’s been very helpful to just exchange ideas and learn from each other.”

The event also included a series of breakout sessions during which attendees participated in sustainability-centered workshops, ranging from a presentation by the Stanford Energy Club on renewable energy, to a more policy-oriented discussion led by Burt on how to increase collaboration and resource-sharing between different levels of government.

“People always say, ‘What can I do to help?’” said City Clerk Lesley Milton, a member of the event’s core planning team. “And so that was one of the sources of inspiration for the breakout [sessions]. So people could actually go to a topic where they thought that they could be impactful.”

The organizers of the summit said they hope to expand the event into a three-part series. Although Rueff said the core team has yet to begin planning details, she and Burt mentioned a continuation of the “Code Red for Humanity: What Municipalities Can Do” webinar that Acterra hosted in January as a possible future event.

“From what I heard today, there’s a lot of people that are … more enthusiastic and have more ideas and tools about how to [accelerate climate action] going forward,” Veenker said. “That was our goal. I think we hit it.”

Tuesday, Nov. 15: The wording in this article has been updated for accuracy.

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