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Net Zero: Austin City Council Adopts America's Most Aggressive Plan to Combat Climate Change

by: Genevieve Cato

Thu Apr 24, 2014 at 09:00 AM CDT

On April 10th, Austin City Council passed a climate change plan more aggressive than any other city government in the country.

The resolution, which was sponsored by Chris Riley, Sheryl Cole and Bill Spelman, sets the groundwork for "Net Zero" impact on climate change city wide by the year 2050.

The plan builds upon Austin City Council's commitment to fighting climate change but adopts an even broader scope than the plans that came before. The resolution passed with only one negative vote.

More on the goals of the resolution and the lone "no" vote below the jump.

Austin City Council has a proven commitment to combating climate change at the local level. The Austin Climate Protection Plan came out of a resolution passed by City Council in 2007, and set the following goals:

(1)Make all City of Austin facilities, fleets, and operations carbon-neutral by 2020; (2)Make Austin Energy (AE)the leading utility for greenhouse gas reductions; (3) Implement the most energy efficient building codes and aggressively pursue energy efficient retrofits; (4)Create a community-wide inventory of greenhouse gases, establish short- and long- term emission reduction targets, and a comprehensive plan for meeting those targets; (5) Develop and implement a program to assist all citizens, businesses, organizations, and visitors in achieving carbon net neutrality.

Since 2007, the Council has worked continually to meet the goals laid out in the original resolution. The council has passed resolutions to this end every year, including the AE Resource, Generation, and Climate Protection Plan to 2020; the Austin Resource Recovery Master Plan; and the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan.

The Council has been doing so well in meeting its goals that the climate protection plan required an update to remain relevant. The timeframe for the newest resolution is based on findings by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which recommended an 80% reduction from 1990's emissions levels by 2050.

At a press conference announcing the resolution, Chris Riley recognized the importance of the Austin community in reaching the impressive goals laid out in the plan:

[The resolution] sets a long-term goal of achieving a net-zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This kind of process doesn't happen by City Council decree.[Austin has a]whole range of private groups looking out for the public interest...the kind of community that includes broad support for all of these goals.

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole pointed to the historical context of the resolution, saying,

It is a great day for Austin as we make a further commitment to our environment with climate protection. A lot has happened [since 2007]...we have legitimate bragging rights, we've made a lot of progress.

Cole added that the resolution also creates a broader scope for emissions reductions beyond city operations. Joep Meijer, Co-Founder and Chair of Climate Buddies, an organization integral to the local fight against climate change, called on the Austin community to help meet these aggressive goals:

We need to be involved in making this a reality: it is me, you, your family, your church, your work, your government. We will have to work together to get to this mission of zero.

The only vote against this ground-breaking resolution in the fight against climate change came from Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

The resolution in its entirety is available here.

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