Signs of Sustainability

Set sights on Green New Deal

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The world is on track for 3°C of global warming by the end of the century, while there is growing consensus that to avert the worst of the climate crisis, we must work together to limit warming to 1.5°C. To do this, scientists say we must reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions globally by 2050.

As daunting as that target seems, it is still within reach. But, as a recent United Nations Environment Programme report states, “incremental changes will not be enough, and there is a need for rapid and transformational action.”

“The scale of the problem facing our planet demands that we not simply set goals that we feel are ‘reasonable,’” City of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick stated in a May 2019 press release. “Just as Kennedy declared in 1962 that we would put a person on the moon before the decade was out, though how that would be achieved was yet unknown, we must set a similarly bold goal and then challenge ourselves to reach it.”

The city of Ithaca did just that in June 2019, when the Common Council voted unanimously to adopt a Green New Deal to address climate change, economic inequality and racial injustice. Other municipalities in the area, including the town of Ithaca and Tompkins County, are discussing implementing parallel initiatives.

Modeled after the proposed federal legislation, the main goals of the Ithaca Green New Deal are to: 1) Achieve carbon-neutrality community-wide by 2030 and 2) ensure benefits are shared among all local communities to reduce historical, social, and economic inequities.

To underscore its commitment and lead by example, the city also adopted goals for its own operations: 1) meet the electricity needs of city government operations with 100% renewable electricity by 2025 and 2) reduce emissions from the city vehicle fleet by 50% by 2025.

Several initiatives are already underway to help reach these ambitious goals. In 2020, the city will facilitate a comprehensive public engagement process to co-create an action plan detailing how to achieve the Green New Deal for our community.

Reducing emissions in buildings will be a crucial element. The town of Ithaca and the city of Ithaca have been working together since 2017 on a green building policy. As a result, a new local energy code is expected to be in place soon that will require all new buildings in Ithaca to produce 40% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than required by state code.

Net-zero new construction will be required by 2030. The two municipalities will soon kick off a similar process to address existing buildings, aiming to enact legislation by 2021.

Future work will also focus on the transportation sector, with the recognition that to achieve carbon neutrality, we will need to significantly increase walking, bicycling, transit and ridesharing. Electric vehicles will also play a key role. These shifts have been enabled by the city’s long-time work towards a dense urban core.

While the social equity goals of the Green New Deal are less defined than the climate goals, more details will be developed with community input. Widely recognized components include creating well-paying green jobs, working to alleviate poverty and promoting justice for frontline and vulnerable communities.

The city of Ithaca 2020 budget includes significant funding for Green New Deal work. This includes funding for a new full-time sustainability manager.

The city allocated $100,000 for the creation of the Green New Deal action plan, which may be supported by a consultant team. Additional contingent funding was approved that could allow for another full-time position or go towards a Green New Deal project. Funding is also being sought through grant programs.

The city recognizes it cannot attain a Green New Deal without strong support from the federal and state governments. Likewise, local and regional partnerships will need to be created.

Since June, there has been a flurry of local action. The Ithaca Town Board, which has supported strong climate action for a decade, has had several public discussions of what a Green New Deal for the town of Ithaca could look like.

The Tompkins County 2020 budget includes plans for substantial investment to bring its operations to net-zero by 2035. Other local communities are also working towards reducing emissions and improving equity. It will be crucial to find a framework to coordinate all these efforts towards a common set of goals.

The Green New Deal is inspiring, it’s daunting, and it cannot be achieved without you. As we gear up to meet the grand challenge of our time, please help us by spreading the word about the Green New Deal to your colleagues, friends and family. You can also learn more and share your ideas on the city of Ithaca website: cityofithaca.org/642/Green-New-Deal.

Nick Goldsmith works jointly for the town of Ithaca and the city of Ithaca as sustainability coordinator. He can be reached at ngoldsmith@cityofithaca.org or at (607) 273-1721 ext. 136.

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