Here’s what you need to know about the Phoenix climate action plan

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Locals are familiar with prolonged days of extreme heat in the summer – but they might not realize that the average temperature in Phoenix has risen 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s, according to Climate Central.

Rising heat, along with the ongoing mega-drought and persistent poor air quality, are causing problems with how the nation’s fifth largest city plans to tackle climate change.

Phoenix City Council approved the updated climate action plan on October 12, 2021, just weeks before COP26 – the United Nations-sponsored conference that brings countries together to discuss climate change – took place in Scotland .


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COP26 set goals for leaders to develop and take home, including how to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030 and limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. The updated city plan is in line with these goals.

“Focusing on COP26 puts a bit of pressure on cities to scale up, because if cities don’t make some of these changes, there’s no way the federal government can. fulfill the commitments he promised. So it goes both ways, ”said Sonja Klinsky, professor at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability. “There is a chance for cities to pressure the federal government and for the entire global community to pressure cities to scale up and do more. “

Phoenix is ​​one of the fastest warming cities in the country according to a report by Climate Central, and a two-decade drought is a concern for the entire state.

The US Drought Monitor reports that more than 50% of the state is experiencing drought conditions as of December 28, 2021. Lake Mead, part of the Colorado River system that provides water to 40 million people in the south -west, reached a record low water level. levels last year, which led to the first cuts for farmers in Arizona and other states in 2022.

The Phoenix action plan

The city plan focuses on two key goals to be achieved by 2050: reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building resilience.

Emissions reduction targets target stationary energy – fossil fuels, including gas and oil, as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency – transport and waste as a resource. Resilience goals focus on air quality, heat, local food systems and water.

“A climate action plan is also useful in helping us think about how we can protect people from the impacts of climate change,” Klinsky said. “Arizona is very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. … We are already struggling with heat and water, and so the changes in heat and water are things Arizona needs to be taken very seriously.

Flagstaff and Tempe also have climate action plans, but Klinsky said Arizona as a whole is behind schedule for such plans.

“Cities have been developing climate action plans in the rest of the world since the late 1990s,” she said. “Many cities are already 15 or 20 years ahead. This is essential because we are one of the most vulnerable regions in the United States. “

Chicago, for example, launched its plan in 2008. Portland, Oregon, implemented a global warming reduction strategy in 1993 and adopted a climate action plan in 2009.

“Cities really need their own plan,” said Susan Hassol, director of Climate Communication, a nonprofit science and advocacy organization. “Any city could say, ‘Well, we’re going to cut our emissions by 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2050’, but how are we going to do it? What are the areas in which we will make changes.

For some cities, Hassol said, the focus is on “things like electrifying everything. And then we have to clean up the electricity supply. These are things that you can decide nationally or even internationally. “

Phoenix’s success with its plan depends on working with other cities, said Yassamin Ansari, who represents southwest Phoenix on city council. Tempe continues to revise her plan – something much bigger than Phoenix “can learn a lot,” she said.

Phoenix’s plan is a 213-page document, but Deputy City Manager Karen Peters said it wasn’t – new data will improve it over time.

Peters, who helped shape the updated plan, said the city was compiling a list of emission sources that contribute to greenhouse gases for 2020, including fossil fuels, transportation and waste. This inventory will show whether the city is on the right track to achieve the objectives set out in the climate plan, she said.

“It might cause us to change some of those goals or to say that we’ve achieved some of those goals and we should be even better,” said Peters.

The initial sustainability goals were approved by the board in 2016, Peters said. These plans put Phoenix on the path to net zero with carbon emissions by 2060, meaning carbon sinks such as trees will absorb carbon from the air. But the city wanted to align its goals with the Paris Agreement, which aimed to keep the global temperature rise below 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.

“It requires that we achieve net zero carbon emissions as a community by 2050,” said Peters. “So the Climate Action Plan sort of details where the carbon emissions are today and what we should be doing to meet that target. “

Phoenix in 2020 joined C40, which is a network of mayors working to halve their cities’ emissions in a decade. This means the city is required to align its climate plan with the goals of the Paris Agreement, Peters said.

This international treaty was adopted in December 2015 and enacted in November 2016. In 2019, then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal, but the Biden administration returned in February 2021.

Peters said Phoenix has been working to reduce greenhouse gases since government operations emission inventories began in 2005. In 2012, the city began conducting biannual inventories that track where and how many ‘shows are produced, not only by government operations but by the community, as well.

“We would have that kind of benchmark to work from and so since that time we’ve been working on identifying goals that would get us there,” Peters said.

The city is carrying out its inventory of greenhouse gas emissions through its partnership with Arizona State University.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions has “huge benefits” for air quality, which is an issue in Phoenix, Peters said.

“Everything we do to reduce carbon emissions has a wonderful coincidental benefit of improving our air quality as well,” said Peters. “It has a lot of health benefits. We have a lot of childhood asthma, we have a lot of downstream impacts from poor air quality.

Peters, whose areas of responsibility include environmental programs, sustainability, heat preparation, and water conservation, believes the city is on “right track” and on track to achieve a 50% reduction in fuel costs. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and net zero carbon emissions by 2050..

“If everyone does their part, not only will we have a healthier community in the short term,” she said, “but in the long term we will avoid the worst impacts of climate change. “

Peters said C40 stressed that Phoenix must reduce emissions by 67% by 2030 based on the characteristics of the city’s population and community to help meet the broader global target of 50% reduction. carbon emissions.

Climate Communication’s Hassol said reducing emissions is a problem around the world, but “it starts locally and ends locally”.

“The emissions are coming from each locality and the solutions are implemented at ground level in each locality,” she said. “Everyone must help achieve the goal of not exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Paris target.”

The next steps

Ansari said city council will use upcoming budget cycles to vote on new programs for electric vehicles, shading initiatives and cool hallways under the Phoenix environmental programs office.

“It’s a place where we can really put our money where our mouth is and invest in climate solutions,” said Ansari, who attended COP26.

While in Scotland, Ansari learned more about climate action plans from other cities, bringing back potential ideas for future programs.

“I think some cities have done a really amazing job in the implementation,” she said, noting, for example, London’s efforts to create car-free zones.

“Everything is public transport, walking, cycling and they have seen drastic improvements in the quality of their air,” said Ansari. “There are a lot of little pilot programs like this, I think we can learn and the more we collaborate with other cities the better.”

Phoenix launched its first state-funded heat response and mitigation office in October, headed by ASU associate professor of urban planning David Hondula. The office is making plans to increase shade by planting more trees and erecting shade structures, as well as exploring other ways to combat the rising heat in the Phoenix metro area.

“I think (the Climate Action Plan) is awesome,” Ansari said. “It’s a great start, but each year we just have to keep adding to it and being really innovative in how we spend the funds to make sure that sustainability is built into everything we do. “

Article by Olivia Dow, Cronkite News


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