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Environmental coalition cited as instrumental in setting city’s climate goals in line with climate science

Sustainable Columbus unveiled the city’s first Climate Action Plan (CAP) on Thursday, December 9, 2021, with an ambitious overall goal of reducing carbon emissions 45% by 2030, in line with climate science. 

More than a year in the making, the final CAP contains a series of goals and action steps to reduce emissions, increase equity, and make Columbus more sustainable in five areas: Climate Solutions, Sustainable Neighborhoods, Buildings, Transportation, and Waste. Its overall goal is to reduce carbon emissions by approximately 5.2 million metric tons by 2030, or 45%. 

Cities are responsible for 70% of carbon emissions, and Columbus is the 14th-largest city in the country, in the sixth-highest carbon-emitting state, so what the city does to reduce its emissions matters. Columbus also faces deep inequities in energy burden, transit, green space, tree canopy, and more.

City leaders repeatedly attributed the increases in ambition for its climate and equity goals to advocacy by a coalition of environmental groups including Ready for 100 Columbus, Sunrise Columbus, Green Columbus, Simply Living, and Columbus Stand Up!

The initial draft of the Climate Action Plan, released in November 2020, called for reducing Columbus emissions only 25% by 2030. The coalition called for and got a city council hearing at which 30 people testified asking for more ambitious goals in most areas of the plan. Previous news coverage of these events is available herehere, and here

In September, Sustainable Columbus issued the second draft of the climate plan, with a goal of reducing emissions 36% by 2030. Again the coalition went to work, issuing a sign-on letter that acknowledged where ambition had been increased, but seeking further increases in order to be in line with current climate science. The letter garnered over 100 signatures with representatives from 27 organizations.

The final draft of the Climate Action Plan contains those increases in ambition in areas such as rooftop solar, electric vehicle charging stations, microgrids — and 7% in emissions reductions that the city will map out starting in 2025 as new technology and funding become available. 

The release of an ambitious Climate Action Plan comes on the heels of other major advances for sustainability and equity in Columbus, including millions of dollars for energy efficiency and clean energy workforce development in opportunity neighborhoods; a significant expansion in city sustainability staff, including hiring two environmental justice positions; and launch of a regional green fund. 

A 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called for reducing worldwide carbon emissions at least 45% by 2030 for a chance of preserving a livable planet by holding overall global warming to 1.5° Celsius (2.7° Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times. The planet has already warmed 1.1°C (2°F), chiefly due to the greenhouse effect from carbon dioxide emitted by burning fossil fuels.

In response to the release of the Columbus Climate Action Plan, Rachel Wagner, chair of Ready for 100 Columbus, said:

“It is encouraging to see Columbus making bold, new investments in sustainability. Priorities going forward include equitable community engagement, and workforce development for clean energy jobs. This Climate Action Plan demonstrates how to align multiple strategies and organizations in a way that addresses climate change and catalyzes more prosperity for the region.”

Vicky Abou-Ghalioum, hub coordinator for Sunrise Columbus, said: 

“We have been surprised at the extent to which Sustainable Columbus has been receptive to our feedback and critical commentary on the initial draft of this plan. As a climate justice organization, we are primarily focused on building a social movement that prioritizes the needs of our communities facing the effects of climate change daily. This includes addressing the causes of the climate crisis at their root – by investing in good clean energy jobs, reducing our environmental impact locally, and dismantling systemic forces like racism and classism that keep us trapped in a climate catastrophe. While we do still believe that much work is left to be done on the Climate Action Plan, specifically with regard to Indigenous sovereignty and leadership on climate issues, we believe this is a big step for the city of Columbus.”

Cathy Cowan Becker, executive director of Simply Living, said:

 

“Throughout this months-long dialogue on the Columbus Climate Action Plan, city leaders were open to our input and seriously considered our ideas. The result is a climate plan that’s in line with climate science — putting Columbus ahead of most other cities, and even ahead of world leaders at the recent COP 26. We look forward to working with the city to enact this plan, especially to serve low income and communities of color who did the least to cause the climate crisis but are being impacted the most.”