Friday, September 4, 2020 by Savana Dunning

The Office of Sustainability releases draft Climate Equity Plan

The Sustainability Office released its new revised Climate Equity Plan for public comment Wednesday, with hopes to submit the plan to City Council in October.

The 97-page document, which is available through the city’s engagement portal, outlines the Sustainability Office’s plans to decrease the city’s impact on the climate. The original plan, which was called the Austin Community Climate Plan, was adopted in 2015 after City Council resolved to eliminate communitywide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Council also created the Joint Sustainability Steering Committee, which drafted this new plan.

The new plan was updated to accelerate the city’s emission-reduction efforts, with a focus on ensuring racial equity. In a letter from the Joint Sustainability Steering Committee on page three of the plan, committee chairs Katie Coyne, Shane Johnson and Mayuri Raja point to the city’s segregated history and its impact on the economic and living disparities among communities of color as the reasoning behind the plan’s intense focus on racial equity.

“Currently, race predicts a person’s quality-of-life outcomes in our community, which means communities of color in Austin are disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change,” the chairs wrote in the letter. “We live in a tale of two cities – while Austin is repeatedly listed in popular news articles and magazines as the ‘best city’ to live in, this city is one of the most economically and racially segregated cities in the U.S. because of the forces of white supremacy culture that have driven and maintained this dynamic.”

The committee created an Equity Tool to ensure their goals address community health, affordability, accessibility, ease of transition for low-income communities and communities of color, intersectional community improvement, cultural preservation and accountability. The hope is that the goals don’t unintentionally burden residents from marginalized communities. The committee also created a Community Climate Ambassador Program, where 12 community members gauged citizen concerns and provided feedback to the city. Those reports will be posted in the appendix of the plan at a later date.

In addition to placing priority on racial equity, the plan accelerates the already ambitious goals set out by the 2015 plan. The new plan sets complete net-carbon emissions reduction to 2040, a decade sooner than originally planned. To stay on track with this deadline, the steering committee outlined 18 smaller goals to meet by 2030 and 75 strategies to implement by 2025.

The draft plan outlines the strategies needed to meet the 2030 goals.

To increase the number of sustainable buildings in Austin, the plan wants the city to adopt new building and energy codes so that all new buildings and a quarter of existing buildings produce net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. This strategy also includes imposing green tariffs on gas and replacing gas-based equipment in existing buildings with electric models. Further down in the plan, the committee outlines a strategy to incentivize the use of efficient, low-carbon materials in the construction of new buildings, with hopes that the city will be more involved in development agreements further down the road.

The committee hopes that by providing incentives to grocery stores, restaurants and other places with large refrigeration demands to track and prevent refrigeration leaks and adopt more efficient refrigeration systems, the city can reduce the amount of greenhouse gas produced by refrigerants by a quarter.

As a part of its efforts to reduce transportation emissions, the city hopes to focus 80 percent of Austin’s community growth to city centers and corridors, and increase available affordable housing options. Some of the suggested ways to do this involve developing affordable housing properties in gentrifying areas and incorporating robust tenant protections for all rental properties receiving city support. The city also plans to increase the availability of free transit options, including through Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and phase out free parking for city employees and other large employers within a half-mile of the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan network.

Following City Council’s resolution to include a goal for citywide electric vehicle adoption, the plan aims for electric vehicles to account for 40 percent of total vehicle miles traveled in Austin by 2030. The hope is for the city to invest in low-cost charging stations, reduce highway tolls for these vehicles, create incentives to purchase or rent them and encourage private and public transit to purchase 100 percent electric vehicles for their fleets.

To ensure the equity of their target to reduce food waste and overall waste, the city wants to build a local food system where all Austinites have access to climate- and health-conscious food through investing in regenerative agriculture and providing incentives to restaurants and markets to sell plant-based food at lower prices.

Among the other strategies for the city to manage its waste more efficiently is an Austin Resource Recovery Zero-Waste Plan, to be added to the overall climate plan as an amendment by June 2021, and a retooling of the city’s bulk item pickup programs.

In an effort to protect natural environments in and around Austin, the city wants to protect 20,000 acres of land and 500,000 more acres of farmland through legal means, purchasing or agricultural programs. The city plans to create a land management plan that is neutral or negative in carbon emissions.

Taking lessons from the 2015 climate plan’s funding structure, the steering committee identified revenue resources beyond the General Fund to pay for the plan. Among these is a green bond election, incorporating environmental goals into agreements between the city and businesses, taking advantage of aid from philanthropic organizations and partnering with other Texas cities that have climate plans for political leverage in asking for more funding at the state or federal level.

Coupled with the plan on the SpeakUp Austin website is a survey to evaluate community priorities with respect to the plan’s goals and themes. Both the survey and draft plan will be available to the public until Sept. 30, after which the steering committee will make adjustments and submit the plan to City Council for approval.

Photo by Larry D. Moore/CC BY-SA 3.0.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin Office of Sustainability: A branch of city government that works toward increasing the city’s sustainability and reducing the city’s carbon footprint.

climate change

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