Austin among global cities where carbon emissions are already falling


Austin's municipal operations aim to be carbon neutral by 2020, and they're on the way. 

Austin skyline

Austin's municipal operations aim to be carbon neutral by 2020, and they're on the way.

Austin’s Municipal Operations set the goal to be carbon neutral in 2007, and by 2016, the city’s carbon footprint had fallen 75%. This was mostly due to the city choosing renewable energy to power city-owned buildings, eliminating the electricity portion of its carbon creation. Vehicle emissions dropped 9% compared to 2015 due to the increased use of dipbiesel and ethanol fuels, and 330 plug-in electric and battery electric vehicles will be added to the city's fleet over the next three years, according to the Austin-American Statesman.

But the city won't meet their goal by 2020 without buying "carbon offsets" – essentially paying for green energy elsewhere to balance out its emissions. Austin city leaders will make that decision as part of the 2020 budgeting process.

Austin joins dozens of cities worldwide that have steadily decreased their greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new analysis published by C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which is a coalition of cities that have committed to emission standards set by the Paris Agreement.

According to the C40 report, a total of 30 cities, which represent a third of the 94 cities under the C40 group and about 58 million urban residents, have curbed emissions by 22%.

Austin's ultimate goal is to reach a net-zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner, which means Austinites will produce virtually no climate change-causing emissions, not from cars, or electricity, or trash thrown away, by 2050 or sooner.

The Austin Community Climate Plan, which was released in 2015, set the aim for the city to reduce its emissions from 13.7 million metric tons in 2015 to 11.3 million metric tons by 2020. According to 2017 numbers, Austin has reduced its emissions to 12.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is promising to meet the 2020 goal next year.

“Current projections based on these activities suggest that Austin will meet the interim emissions reduction target of 11.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2020,” wrote Austin's Office of Sustainability in a memo in May. “This will largely result from meeting 65% of energy needs with renewables by 2027 based on the current Austin Energy Resource, Generation, and Climate Protection Plan. Strategies to reduce emissions from transportation sources and associated land-use decisions will be increasingly important to achieve the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.”

While the original plan was released in 2015, the City of Austin is currently updating the plan for 2020 with an emphasis on community-wide initiatives.

"When we think about the city's climate plan, this isn't just the city's operation. This goal is community-wide initiatives, so that's my house, my car, your house, your car. Every business, everything out there. Moving away from using fossil fuels to using renewable resources of energy," said Zach Baumer, climate program manager with the City of Austin Office of Sustainability, during a Facebook Live with the Austin EcoNetwork.

The new plan will also be updated with two new sections, including consumer emissions (the emissions required to transport imports to consumers) and natural systems capturing carbon emissions through trees, soil, agriculture and other natural processes.

"I think the key thing that we've learned over time is that the solutions to climate change that make our city a better place, that save people time and money, that make live as we know it better are solutions that don't exploit the Earth, that don't exploit animals or people," Baumer said. "And they're the same solutions that get us to fix climate change."

Furthermore, Austin has been able to achieve this decrease in emissions despite leading the nation in metro population growth for 8 consecutive years, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. “Overall, it's a very encouraging signal that yes you can still grow your economy, you can still grow your cities in size and still peak,” Michael Doust, C40’s program director of measure and planning, told CityLab.

Heather Leighton


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