Austin’s highly anticipated climate equity plan was presented to city council on Tuesday morning after nearly two years of hard work and delay. The city’s latest climate action plan was adopted in June 2015, with the intention of updating it every five years. Its update – the final version of which is now complete – proposes that the city achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040, a decade earlier than an earlier version of the proposed plan.
This climate plan is unique in that it emphasizes racial justice. The plan seeks to involve a cross-section of Austin stakeholders, with an emphasis on the contribution of community members who have historically been excluded from climate action planning. The plan has been described as a âco-creationâ by city staff and over 100 community members and businesses.
âAs we try to eliminate the use of fossil fuels, we also try to eliminate disparities that can be predicted by race,â said Zach Baumer, climate program manager for the Office of Sustainability, who has presented the plan. âIf we don’t proactively tackle equity and center it in our climate change plan, we will only perpetuate injustice.
While the 100-page plan is not an exhaustive list of everything the city needs to do to tackle climate change, it does provide actions and strategies to reduce the community’s carbon footprint. In 2019, the community as a whole emitted 12.3 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, 40% of which came from gasoline and diesel-based transportation and 37% from electricity consumption. The rest of the emissions came from things like natural gas, refrigerants, industrial emissions, and landfills. While the city’s carbon footprint is far larger than what climate activists want it to be, emissions have steadily declined since their peak in 2011.
The previous goal was to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. But in 2019, the board asked staff to take a closer look at the goal and determine if it was aggressive enough. The committee approved the final version of the plan, accelerating the emissions target by a full decade and outlining a steeper path to a fossil-free future.
Many cities “are now increasing the urgency of their goals until 2040, and even before 2040,” Baumer said. “So we think this is an important step for this plan and for the city to move towards a more aggressive goal.”
But Austin is not yet quite on track to meet the goals set. The plan, which looks at increments over a decade, projects that the city will fall just short of its baseline in 2030. But Baumer was convinced that even if the current trajectory doesn’t quite hit the mark, science and politics will change over time, making the goal achievable. .
âWhile we don’t have all the answers to achieve this super aggressive target by 2030, we do know that we will be reviewing the plan in five years,â he said. âWe know that things are happening at the federal level. We know things will change over time and we hope to be able to achieve that goal by 2030. â
To achieve its goals, the plan proposes four broad themes, 17 goals and 74 strategies, all emphasizing equity. The presentation to Council highlighted a selection of objectives to give a general idea of ââhow the city can achieve the parameters it has defined. By 2030, the plan recommends:
- 50% of trips should use alternative options such as public transit, carpooling or cycling, not single occupant vehicles
- 40 percent of vehicle kilometers traveled should be electric vehicles
- all new buildings should be constructed to be zero carbon
- greenhouse gases from food and product consumption should be reduced by 50 percent
Some Council members expressed strong support for the plan and its urgency. In response, Council member Greg Casar referred to the deadly winter storm in February, one of the most dramatic recent consequences of the climate crisis.
âI just can’t stress how serious this job is,â Casar said. “We have a responsibility to show the country how we can effectively fight against climate change and the acceleration of the change that we are experiencing in the crisis, but also to prepare our community, because we have already lived too much.”
Council will vote on the amended plan and a plan for its implementation at today’s meeting.
Photo by Renwang101, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
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