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City reworks its Community Climate Plan through an equity lens

Tuesday, June 9, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Five years ago, Austin’s Office of Sustainability began implementing its 2030 Community Climate Plan in order to work toward the city’s goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Now, the department is revising its plan to update metrics and advance the city’s ambitious emissions goals with a commitment to racial equity.

Zach Baumer, the city’s climate program manager, told the Environmental Commission at its May 20 meeting that the objective of the revision is to “give a voice to those who haven’t had a voice in city processes.” This approach, he said, will work to address the fact that while climate change touches everyone, it doesn’t affect all communities equally.

Baumer explained that the aim is to prioritize low-income communities and communities of color by including them in the update process for the plan’s five new goals: 1) working toward the improvement of sustainable buildings; 2) transportation electrification; 3) transportation and land use; 4) natural systems; and 5) consumption.

A corresponding advisory committee will consider each of these five goals during the development phase of the plan update, and evaluate the goals against the equitable outcomes of health, affordability, accessibility, prioritized transition, community capacity, cultural preservation and institutional accountability. The finalized plan will be presented to City Council for approval in September.

In addition to working toward the city’s reduction targets for greenhouse gases, Baumer said the climate plan is designed to fit amid the other plans the city has developed that address climate change. He showed projections of the effects that the plan will generate, including a 60 percent drop-off in emissions from transportation and a 66 percent decline in building emissions.

The stakeholder engagement process was also altered to make it more inclusive. Baumer told the commission that the city’s goal was that half of the plan’s advisory groups and steering committees should identify as people of color, and “we’re just about right at that number.”

In addition, the city created a Climate Ambassador Program made up of 10 people from underrepresented communities. These ambassadors are tasked with going out into their communities and asking residents what they think about climate change and its effects before reporting back to the Office of Sustainability.

Austin’s 2015 Community Climate Plan focused on electricity and natural gas; transportation and land use; materials and waste management; and industrial processes. Due to initiatives that were catalyzed as a result of this plan, Baumer told the commission that Austin reduced its greenhouse gas emissions from its peak of 15 million metric tons to 12.5 million metric tons in 2017.

Austin Energy represents a large component of this reduction. The city-owned utility is working toward its own 2030 resource generation plan where it will arrive at 100 percent carbon-free electricity generation by 2035.

However, Baumer said there are various other contributors to the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. “We’ve still got a long way to go, so of course we need to revise the plan,” he said.

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