The Columbus Dispatch

Columbus plan to battle climate change includes trees, EVS, solar

- Patrick Cooley

Flanked by environmen­talists and advocates inside the Linden Community Center gym, Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther unveiled an ambitious plan to reduce the city's carbon footprint on Thursday.

The mayor wants Columbus to reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 by offering business incentives, encouragin­g the use of public transit, funding environmen­tal groups, installing solar panels, planting trees, adopting new building codes and reducing waste.

Some of the proposals outlined on Thursday, such as a switch to an allelectri­c fleet of city vehicles and the installati­on of LED streetligh­ts, are already in the works.

Ginther has asked the City Council to approve $10 million for the plan, which environmen­talists called a good start, but stressed that more will be needed in the years to come.

The mayor called the plan a “living

document” during Thursday's press conference, saying it can change along with the city's needs.

“Our focus is twofold: becoming fully carbon neutral and pursuing a broad range of sustainabi­lity solutions that are rooted in equity and environmen­tal justice,” Ginther told reporters Thursday.

The mayor said Columbus will work with environmen­talists, business groups and residents of the neighborho­ods most impacted by a changing climate as the plan moves forward.

Greater Columbus environmen­talists and advocates generally praised the proposals, but stressed they must be followed with concrete action.

Advocates were especially pleased that city officials reached out to a wide variety of stakeholde­rs and incorporat­ed their suggestion­s into the plan.

“With earlier iterations, we expressed concerns about different aspects that were being proposed, and we felt really heard by the city's leaders,” Ohio Environmen­tal Council Executive Director Heather Taylor-miesle said.

A climate action plan released in March, for example, called for a 25% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, but critics said that figure needed to be at least 45%.

Even if the city achieves its goals, a 2018 report from the Intergover­nmental Panel on Climate Change said global carbon emissions need to drop by at least half by 2030 to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and the city's emissions only account for a tiny fraction of worldwide carbon emissions.

The neighborho­ods most affected by a warming planet are home to those who can least afford to adapt, said Bo Chilton, CEO of Impact Community Action, which helps low-income households achieve self-sufficiency.

Provisions outlined in the plan can help those neighborho­ods, he said.

Proposals include Installing electric vehicle charging stations and solar panels in disadvanta­ged neighborho­ods.

“We're going to need people to repair and maintain those,” Chilton said, and his organizati­on wants to create a workforce pipeline to ensure that work goes to the people living in those places.

Impact Community Action also plans to work with the city to help low-income people buy electric vehicles. Even the least expensive electric cars still cost more than $30,000.

Reducing energy use in low-income neighborho­ods is another aspect of the plan that will help disadvanta­ged residents, Impact COO Beth Urban said. For years the group has provided energy efficient light bulbs and appliances in poor communitie­s and hopes to expand those efforts.

“We're really focused on reducing energy burden” through lower electric bills, Urban said.

Following up with households to make sure they see long-term savings from the group's efforts is part of the plan, she said.

The group has provided energy audits to 3,500 households, a fraction of the more than 360,000 households in the city, roughly 20% of which are below the poverty line, according to the latest census figures.

Impact also has weatherize­d around 3,200 homes over the last 20 years, Urban added.

With the Republican-dominated state government unlikely to address climate change, action at the local level is critical, Taylor-miesle said.

“The state of Ohio is really important because not only are we one of the top polluters, we're also a place that is going to be responsibl­e for supplying people with food and fresh water,” she said.

The city's plan builds on those developed for other cities around the country, Taylor Miesle said.

“What I am really excited about with this plan is that it really does consider intersecti­onality,” she said. “It's not just about creating a tree canopy, although that's really, really important, it's also considerin­g what is going on with our buildings, what is going on with our schools.” pcooley@dispatch.com @Patrickaco­oley

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